Archive for Steel

Union members back changes to steel pension scheme

Members of the three major steel trade unions have backed proposed changes to their pension scheme.

Members of Community, Unite and GMB trade unions have voted to reform the British Steel Pension scheme in a move designed to help secure the long term future of the industry in the UK.

Tom Blenkinsop, Chair of the All Party Group on Steel said:

Everyone knew neither option on the ballot paper was ideal. This decision has been difficult for steelworkers up and down the country but shows what they are willing to do to keep this vitally important industry in the UK.

Credit should go to these unions who sought the backing of their members and who have worked tirelessly to help current and retired British steelworkers in this time of crisis.

Both the Government and employers must now match the commitment to industry that workers have shown, resolve the difficulties with the pension scheme and build the successful future we all know the UK steel industry can have.

Responding to the results, Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of Community, said:

This result provides a mandate from our members to move forward in our discussions with Tata and find a sustainable solution for the British Steel Pension Scheme.

Steelworkers have taken a tough decision and have shown they are determined to safeguard jobs and secure the long-term future of steelmaking. Nobody wanted to be in this situation, but as we have always said, it is vital that we now work together to protect the benefits already accrued and prevent the BSPS from free-falling into the PPF.

This ballot involved an extremely personal decision for everyone that voted. Whichever way our members cast their votes, we know they will not have taken that decision lightly and everyone’s opinions must be respected.

We now expect Tata to make good on their promises and deliver the investment plan for the whole of their steel business. The UK Government still has an important role to play and we fully expect them to deliver tangible support for steelmaking in the UK.


MPs reveal ‘2020’ vision for steel

Today, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Steel, chaired by Tom , published its vision for revitalising the steel industry.

The report, ‘Steel 2020’, draws on interviews with businesses, unions, Government ministers and employees of the industry to develop a strategy for securing the industry’s future in the UK.

It concludes, that the UK steel industry is currently ‘hamstrung by a toxic combination of policies that hobble the industry by comparison to global competitors’, and calls on the Government to act to provide a level playing field that will allow the industry to ‘thrive nationally and globally’.

Tom Blenkinsop said:

This report confirms that with the right Government action the UK’s steel industry can have long term future and provide the good manufacturing jobs that Teesside and communities all around the country so desperately need.

’Steel 2020’ highlights the incredible innovative work that is already taking place in the metals sector and the challenges it needs to overcome.

This report not only identifies the failures of current Government policy but also offers some solutions too. I know my colleagues and I will continue to push the Government to act on this reports’ recommendations and support this industry which has supported communities all over the country for generations.

Particular credit for compiling this report should go to my Labour colleagues Anna Turley and Stephen Kinnock, whose hard work and belief in this industry made ‘Steel 2020’ possible.

The report recommends further action in several areas including energy costs, Chinese steel dumping and procurement rules for Government projects.

‘Steel 2020’ is supported by members from four political parties and was authored by Dr Ian Greenwood of Leeds University Business School.

Tories are putting China ahead of UK steelworkers

The European Council has agreed to impose tougher sanctions on cheap Chinese imports, despite UK Government opposition.

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Tom questions Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark

The new measure will give the EU greater powers to increase tariffs on Chinese steel, which is being dumped, sometimes at below cost prices, in the European market, threatening domestic steel producers.

While the British steel industry welcomed the development the UK Government has consistently argued against increased tariffs, even supporting granting Market Economy Status to China which would likely reduce current tariffs on cheap Chinese imports.

Tom, Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group on Steel, yesterday asked the Business Secretary Greg Clark about the threat Chinese dumping posed the industry. In reply Mr Clark claimed the Government ‘have been active in making sure that we have the right trade defences against practices where countries dump steel unfairly in the UK market’.

Commenting on the news of the European Council’s agreement  said:

Today’s news shows regardless of the Government’s talk you can’t trust to Tories to save the UK steel industry.

Despite Greg Clark’s answer to my question yesterday, at the European level our Government has been opposing greater tariffs on the Chinese steel dumping threatening British producers.

It’s not just the steel industry that needs trade defence measures against Chinese dumping – the textile, ceramics and chemical industries also need the government to stand up for them.

Following Brexit the UK will need to develop its own trade defence measures and I don’t trust this Government, who continue bend the knee to China at every opportunity, to do what’s best for British manufacturing jobs.

The Government again seems to putting its relationship with the Chinese ahead of the interests of UK steel workers. We now face the bizarre situation of British workers welcoming an EU measure that their own Government opposed!

The Daily Mirror today reported Theresa May’s spokesman said the Prime Minister was ‘disappointed’ at the imposition on tougher tariffs.

View Tom’s question to Greg Clark

‘Tata can’t be allowed to break promises to steel workers and pensioners’ – Tom

Tom has reacted to reports in today’s Financial Times that Tata plans to close its pensions scheme next year.

The British Steel Pension Scheme’s (BSPS) deficit was seen as a significant barrier to the sale of Tata steel’s UK plants to new operators. The scheme’s deficit, earlier this year estimated at £700m, was recently re-estimated at a far lower £50m. Despite this apparent improvement in the scheme’s health, the Financial Times today reports Tata plan to close the scheme next year, just before the company is due to make a £60m recovery plan payment, promised to the BSPS’s trustees last year.

If the reports are accurate, the BSPS would cease to accept further contributions to the scheme, although it would continue to pay out to existing members. Unions, including Community, previously threatened to strike over a plan to close the final salary scheme in 2015.

Tom, who also chairs the All Party Parliamentary Steel Group, said:

I hope Tata will clarify their plans for the British Steel Pension Scheme. The uncertainty over the future of steelworkers’ pensions affects not only the 130,000 members of the scheme but the future of the steel industry in the UK.

Tata can’t be allowed to break promises to workers and pensioners, merely to cut their costs. I hope the Pensions’ Regulator and unions will be able to examine Tata’s plans to ensure they are acting like what they have always promised to be: a responsible employer.

The trustees of the scheme had previously outlined a plan to make the scheme function independently of Tata, on which the government consulted. The consultation process closed in June. The government is yet to outline its response to this consultation.

Teesside MPs lead steel debate in parliament

Teesside MPs Tom Blenkinsop and Anna Turley, yesterday led a debate on the future of the UK steel industry in parliament.

Tom Blenkinsop steel backbench debateAnna - Steel Debate

During the debate, which they secured, Tom and Anna raised a number of issues from the challenge of Chinese steel dumping to future of the former SSI site in Redcar.

The debate was well attended by members from a variety of different parties.

Tom, said:

I am glad members from across the house were given the opportunity to push the government again on this issue.

Just because steel has fallen down the news agenda doesn’t mean the industry has overcome the challenges it was facing only a few months ago. The government needs to act on Chinese steel dumping, access to European markets, energy costs and to support innovation in the sector.

Specifically, several MPs called for the creation of a Materials Catapult to boost research and development in the sector.

Chris McDonald, Chief Executive of the Materials Processing Institute, said:

The steel debate has highlighted the importance of continued innovation-support for the future of the UK steel industry, through the development of a Materials Catapult in the region, to keep UK manufactures on the front foot in responding to the international market.

The North East has a proud and prestigious history of steelmaking and has built extensive expertise in production and processes. The Materials Processing Institute continues to develop and share this expertise with international steelmakers, which would be bolstered by the creation of a Materials Catapult.

Anna’s speech focused on the inaction of the government during the SSI closure and the fact the site was now currently in limbo.

Anna, MP for Redcar, said:

I took the opportunity again today to raise the deadlock around the future of the former SSI site with the Minister. The site is stuck in faraway wrangles between the official receiver and faceless banks in South East Asia and there are no signs of progress. I have met with serious potential investors who are looking very closely at Teesside and are attracted by the key strengths we have but we need the site to be liberated. The businesses of Teesside are ready to rebuild, invest, regenerate and bring much needed jobs to our area but not being able to redevelop the steelworks site is a big stumbling block.

In response to the debate, Nick Hurd, the Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry, denied the government was not acting to solve the crisis which continues to embroil the steel industry and reiterated their commitment to securing the future of UK steel.

Government backing China over UK steel reveals where their priorities lie

The Chancellor Philip Hammond last week recommitted the government to backing Market Economy Status for China, despite the fact the move could flood the UK steel market with cheap, subsidised Chinese steel.

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Granting China Market Economy Status would weaken or remove trade barriers on the dumping of cheap Chinese steel in the European market, the main market for UK steel businesses. Tariffs for Chinese steel currently stand up to 73.7% in the EU but at more than 500% in the USA. The decision whether to change China’s market status will have to be made in December of this year.

During a visit to Washington Mr Hammond said the UK was ‘bound to’ support the change in status due to ‘certain undertakings we gave to China’.

Steel exports from China have increased by 395% since 2009 and have been blamed for the loss of some 6,000 jobs in the UK.

Tom, said:

It is depressingly clear that the Chancellor has prioritised his ‘undertakings’ to China over his commitments to UK steel workers.

The idea that Communist China, whose steel companies are state-owned, is a market economy is obviously absurd. The government has put itself in this ridiculous situation to ingratiate itself to the Chinese. Now it is clear that continuing with this policy will damage British industry they don’t have the courage to stand up to the Chinese and change the policy.

The government should do what is in the national interest and what is common sense, and change its policy of supporting Market Economy Status for China.

Tom yesterday raised the issue with David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, by asking what trade protection measure the government would seek to keep in place if China were granted market economy status.

’The story of this site isn’t over’ – Tom on SSI stats

New statistics show 93% of those forced to rely on unemployment benefits by the closure of the Redcar Steelworks have stopped claiming, one year later.

Statistics published by the Department for Work and Pensions show 1990 of the 2150 of those made unemployed, either as a direct or indirect result of the SSI site closure, no longer rely on Job Seekers’ Allowance.

Tom welcomed the findings but warned there is still more to do:

These statistics show the impact of the closure of the SSI plant is still being felt by my constituents and others on Teesside. They show over 150 of those made redundant in the closure of the site are still unemployed. The fact that the vast majority have found jobs is testament to the hard work of the SSI Task Force.

But these statistics don’t show the whole picture. They don’t show if many highly skilled workers are now employed in jobs that fail to use their range of abilities, if they are poorly paid, or if those jobs are sustainable in the long term. The reality is these statistics on their own don’t demonstrate success, success can only be demonstrated in rebuilding lives of those who lost their jobs a year ago.

The steel industry on Teesside didn’t die with the closure of the SSI site. ‘British Steel’ now operates the long products site in Skinningrove and the Lackenby bean mill, and, hopefully, Hartlepool tube mill has a viable future. With the right government support these works can thrive and expand, perhaps then these former SSI workers can get back to doing what they do best – producing high quality British steel.

The story of this site isn’t finished yet, and we can’t let the government use these statistics to close the book on the men and women who have played a part in it.

These figures were released to accompany the SSI Taskforce’s One-Year-On report, which highlights the progress made by the Taskforce in the year since closure.

Tom pushes PM to do more to protect UK steel from Chinese dumping

Tom yesterday asked whether Theresa May had raised issues relating to the steel industry with Chinese representatives at the G20.

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The dumping of cheap Chinese-made steel in the UK has been blamed for undercutting British-made steel and causing the crisis which led to the closure of the Redcar steelworks, as well as difficulties at the Tata steel plant in Port Talbot. There remains considerable uncertainty about the government’s proposed trading relationship with China.

Mr Blenkinsop asked Theresa May to confirm whether she had raised the dumping issue in bilateral meetings with the Chinese at the G20 summit. He urged the PM to defend the UK steel industry with real action to stop the flood of cheap Chinese steel.

Mrs May denied that the government had taken no action in respect of the steel industry, highlighting steps to tackle energy costs and emission regulations. The Prime Minister did not respond specifically to Tom Blenkinsop’s question on whether she raised the dumping of cheap steel with the Chinese representatives, nor did she offer any new action to defend UK steel businesses.

Tom said:

Our steel industry is still in crisis. The government cannot sit back and think, ‘well, we’ve done enough’ – they haven’t. The dumping of Chinese steel still poses a real threat to thousands of jobs from Port Talbot to Hartlepool. The PM should not try to downplay the issue.

I welcome the government’s emphasis on developing an industrial strategy to think through the long term future for the steel industry in the UK. But there are further short term actions that need to be taken now, including on the dumping issue, for there to be a long term future for the industry.

You can see Tom’s question and the Prime Minister’s answer here.

Tom welcomes Community’s nomination of Owen Smith for Labour leadership

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Tom Blenkinsop has praised the steelworkers’ union’s decision to nominate Owen Smith in the current Labour leadership contest.

Tom, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said:

Our steel industry is in crisis. We need a government that will offer us real solutions. This nomination shows that British steel workers from Skinningrove to Port Talbot see Owen Smith’s vision for the country offers real hope.

The Tories’ inaction has contributed to the steel crisis and Jeremy has offered no solutions. While Jeremy may have worn a ‘Save our Steel’ badge in last week’s leadership debate it was Owen who put forward policies that could actually help the industry.

The deeper we get into this steel crisis the more people need Labour budgets not just Labour badges. Only Owen stands any chance of delivering that.

The union, one of the fourteen affiliated to the Labour party, announced their nomination last week in an article for the website LabourList.

In that article Roy Rickhuss, Community’s general secretary, said:

Community’s members desperately need a Labour Party that not only speaks for them, but speaks to the country at large. At the moment, I fear it does neither.

Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership now presents a significant barrier to a future Labour government. He very plainly cannot lead a party and his continued presence as Labour leader makes our ability to build an election winning, social movement, the likes of which was saw in the late 90s and early 00s, harder not easier.

Owen Smith offers an agenda that is as radical as it is pragmatic. In a short space of time he has laid out detailed plans to make workplaces fairer and more prosperous. He has shown a real understanding of what an active industrial strategy should look like. Owen clearly has incredible ambition in his plan for Britain while recognising the fundamental need for Labour to be trusted with the nation’s finances.

Community represents workers across a variety of sectors, from the steel industry to the prison service. It was the first union to make such a nomination in the current Labour leadership contest.

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) have also nominated Owen Smith for leader of the Labour party.

Javid’s secret plan to slash 5,000 Government jobs “could hit SSI Task Force work”

Secret Government plans to axe over 5,000 civil service posts “could hit vital work being done by the SSI Teesside Task Force” according to Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop.

Speaking today (April 13th 2016) Tom said:
“Secret plans leaked to the Times Newspaper indicate that BIS Secretary of State Sajid Javid is now making plans to axe over 5,000 staff employed by his Business Ministry and agencies controlled by that Ministry.

“These losses are draconian – and could hit Teesside hard.  He is, the report said, planning to cut 40% of all the staff employed by the Business Ministry – and crucially for Teesside is planning to take the axe to the Insolvency Service. The Insolvency Service is managed by the Official Receiver, the person and the agency put in place to oversee the affairs of SSI after the company went into liquidation in the UK, leading to the loss of the Redcar works and the staff there. The Official Receiver is still there as the formal administrator of the site, and carries a huge responsibility for the work over seen by the SSI task force – not least the disposal, remediation and possible future uses of the site.  In addition, the Official Receiver still employs people on site, and some of those staff are crucial in monitoring issues like possible contamination and flood and groundwater control.

“Also at risk in the plans, according to the Times are BIS agencies like the Skills Funding Agency and the UK Commission on Employment and Skills – again both agencies which are important in maintaining the area’s skill base and – crucially – the oversight of the Government’s programme for apprentices, something important when we come to the future jobs market for our local young people.

“In a sense, the fact that these agency jobs are at risk due to the Government, is ironic, when we recall that at the time of the original SSI closure we were calling on Mr Javid to tell the Official Receiver to take action to secure the ironmaking plant and coke ovens on the site in the hope we could get a restart of operations if a buyer was in the offing. At that time we were told by Mr Javid and his deputy, Anna Soubry, that they could not do this, arguing the Official Receiver “was independent of Government”. How independent that person and his agency is, is now highlighted by this latest news, and shows the Government position at that time to have been deeply duplicitous.

“These latest round of cuts, if pushed through, will adversely affect the SSI Task Force, and I and my local MP colleagues will be pressing government to halt them.”