’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.

Liam Fox’s speech hints at ‘abandoning steel industry’ says Tom

The Secretary of State for the new Department for International Trade has said the government ‘must turn our back on…voices that tell us: it’s OK you can protect bits of your industry’ in a speech to the right wing Conservative Way Forward group.

The speech, leaked to the Times newspaper on Saturday, urged the government to be ‘unreconstructed, unapologetic free traders’. Such an approach would have serious consequences for the UK steel industry, which has suffered following a flood of cheap Chinese steel into the European and UK markets.

Tom Blenkinsop, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, who last week asked Mrs May to implement ‘trade defence measures’ on Chinese steel dumping, said the comments were worrying:

This government’s promise of a comprehensive Industrial Strategy gave many people employed in the steel industry hope that Theresa May’s government would actually take UK steel’s concerns seriously.

However, this speech suggests that Liam Fox is unwilling to help protect the industry from the dumping of Chinese steel. That steel is sold in Europe and elsewhere by Chinese state-owned companies at below cost price – something no one can compete with.

I believe that on a level playing field UK steel would be able to compete and could be a world leader. But we’re not on a level playing field and we never will be if the government listens to Liam Fox and abandons UK steel to the forces of this distorted market.

Liam Fox’s speech also drew controversy by referring to British businesses as ‘fat and lazy’. No. 10 has said that the Secretary of State for International Trade was merely ‘expressing private views’.

Boulby Potash accidents raised in parliament

Tom last week raised the death of miner John ‘Richie’ Anderson and other accidents at the Boulby Potash Mine in the House of Commons.

Tom asked that time be made available in parliament’s busy schedule to debate the safety issues and the treatment of those workers injured in the accidents. In particular, he highlighted that the low sick pay received by some of those injured had meant they had to return to work despite their conditions.

Tom said:

Recently we’ve seen a pattern of accidents at the Boulby Potash Mine, including the tragic death of my constituent John ‘Richie’ Anderson. I am concerned by safety at the mine especially given that following recent redundancies there are less people, working longer hours on the site. This may get worse if there are further job losses at the site.

I have been contacted by constituents who are troubled that those men injured in the underground fire incident have had to go back to work as statutory sick pay is simply not enough to cover their bills.

I worry that such a situation risks further accidents. An interim solution needs to be found that ensures fairness for those injured and safety for all working at the mine.

In the last year several accidents have occurred at the site including:

  • The electrocution of a contractor working on the site at surface level (August)
  • The death of miner John ‘Richie’ Anderson following a sudden gas release (June)
  • The hospitalisation of seven miners due an underground fire, in which a total of 11 workers were injured (April)

David Lidington MP, the Leader of the House, said he would raise the matter with relevant ministers.

See Tom’s question and the minister’s response.

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.

160907 TB in chamber

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 backs backbench amendments to government Finance Bill

Tom has added his name to two backbench amendments to today’s Finance Bill.

The first amendment aims to improve transparency around international corporations’ tax affairs. If it passes, the amendment will give the government the power to make large global companies publish ‘headline’ details of where they make their profits and pay their taxes.

The second amendment proposes the reintroduction of ‘distributional analysis’ to government budgets, which will show the impact of budget measures on different income groups. This analysis was scrapped last year alongside George Osborne’s controversial plan to cut tax credits, which it is believed would disproportionately affect lower income groups.

Tom said:

I am proud to support these two amendments which could help to tackle two great problems of time: tax avoidance and inequality.

I owe it to my constituents to get accurate information on how government changes will affect them, and to make sure global companies pay their fair share of tax, just like businesses and families in Teesside have to. These amendments will help do both those things and that’s why I am supporting them.

Regrettably, Labour’s leadership and organisation on these important issues has come from the backbenches. I hope the outcome of our leadership election will provide us with a new leadership that doesn’t have to rely on others to take on the Tories.

So far Theresa May has talked the talk about corporate responsibility and helping the poor – we’ll see on Monday whether she’ll walk the walk by backing these amendments.

The Finance Bill, and these amendments will be debated and voted on in the House of Commons on today (5 September) and tomorrow (6 September).

Read Tom’s letter to the PM asking her to help provide ‘certainty’ over Teesside’s future

Tom has written to the Prime Minister to ask her to provide ‘more certainty’ on Teesside’s future and to commit funds to the region.

160826 Letter to PM

The letter follows several media reports that Mrs May may be planning to block the introduction of city-region mayors, including the Mayor for the Tees Valley.

The elected mayor was intended to lead on various aspects of a regional strategy for Teesside economy, including those recommended by Lord Heseltine’s Tees Valley Opportunity Unlimited report. In particular, the letter references the regeneration of the former SSI steelworks site at Redcar. The mayor was expected to lead a ‘Mayoral Development Corporation’ tasked with the regeneration of the site.

Tom said:

The Prime Minister has up until this point added to uncertainties over Teesside’s future. The reports that she is considering scrapping plans to introduce a Mayor for the Tees Valley means that the future of the development strategy for our region and regeneration of the former SSI site are in doubt.

As well as that, Theresa May’s mantra that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ hasn’t actually clarified what our future relationship with the EU will look like. Whether the UK will remain a part of the single market and comply with EU industry standards will have a massive knock-on effect for businesses in Teesside. We need certainty to attract investment and protect jobs in our region.

I worry that prolonged uncertainty about the mayor and Brexit will damage our economy here in the Tees Valley.

I have asked for the PM to commit to supplying the funding our region previously got from the EU, and to immediately clarify her position on the introduction of city-region mayors.

Change to Momentum rules ‘sinister’

Momentum, the pro-Jeremy Corbyn campaigning organisation, has changed its code of conduct to remove its commitment to ‘non-violence’.

One of those who argued for the change is Jill Mountford, a member of the openly Trotskyite group ‘Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’ (AWL). Despite her membership of the AWL she remains a leading figure in the Momentum organisation. Ms Mountford argued that the change in rules was necessary to allow for members’ right of self-defence while on protests.

A statement from Momentum cited World War Two and apartheid as examples of situations where violence would be legitimate.

Tom Blenkinsop, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, commented on the change with concern:

This change is both ludicrous and sinister.

It shows that Trotskyites within Momentum have a huge influence over the organisation and are shaping it in the direction they want to see: extra-parliamentary resistance to capitalism and the state.

I am sure new members of the Labour Party and Momentum will be either puzzled or concerned by the change. Most joined to support Jeremy Corbyn not to violently resist police in the streets!

The purpose of this alteration is to give violent protesters leeway in the organisation. It is frankly unbelievable that Momentum has changed its code of conduct because of hypothetical worries about a fascist invasion or the imposition of apartheid, as they have claimed. If either of those were to happen I imagine we’d all have more to worry about than getting kicked out of Momentum.

I have had many strong disagreements with my local Teesside Momentum group but I would hope they would distance themselves from this change and recommit to non-violence.

The original news story can be found here.

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour Party nominates Owen Smith, despite attempted ‘entryism’

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Constituency Labour Party (CLP) last week voted to nominate Owen Smith as the next leader of the Labour Party.

The vote, 23-12 in favour of Owen, was welcomed by MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Tom Blenkinsop, who also nominated the challenger in the contest.

Tom said:

“I am really pleased with this overwhelming vote to support Owen Smith as our next Labour leader.

“I know some of those who voted for Owen at this meeting supported Corbyn in the last election, which I think says a lot about both Corbyn’s leadership and Owen’s radical and practical vision for our country.

“As well as our local party and unions such as Community and GMB, polling shows the general public also believe Owen should be the next leader of the Labour party. I hope party members and supporters listen to these voices and vote for Owen Smith.”

The vote was carried despite one Jeremy Corbyn supporter, who is not a Labour party member, trying to enter the meeting using someone else’s membership card.  CLP officers spotted the discrepancy and ensured the individual was prevented from participating in the meeting.

Tom said:

“I am grateful that vigilant staff prevented this attempted entryism from influencing our nomination meeting. I will be informing the national party of the incident and will ask that they provide additional support to CLPs around the country to stop these sort of underhand tricks undermining the nominations process.

“If this is happening in local nomination meetings then we must be aware of what Corbyn supporters from outside our party may be doing to undermine the upcoming national voting process.”

This follows the news that Jeremy Corbyn has dismissed evidence from Tom Watson, Labour’s Deputy Leader, of hard-left groups organising to influence the leadership election.

Tom’s comments on more Job losses at Boulby Potash Mine

Commenting on news that Cleveland Potash are cutting another 140 Jobs Tom Blenkinsop, Labour Member of Parliament for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, where the mine is located, said:

Tom at Boulby mine with on-site GMB and Unite representatives

Tom at Boulby mine with on-site Unite and GMB representatives

“This is very concerning news as it comes just a week after another accident at the mine.

“Mines by their nature are hazardous but there has been a marked increase in incidents in recent months. In April 11 miners were trapped underground for hours when a fire cut them off, in June a gas blowout killed John ‘Richie’ Anderson, last week a worker was put in to and induced coma for two days after suffering a serious electric shock and there have been other health and safety incidents since the workforce was reduced at the beginning of the year.

“I will be meeting with the chief inspector of mines, Bob Leeming, Tomorrow (Tuesday 16th August) to talk about the series of accidents in recent months and since the initial redundancies were announced.

“Safety must be the first priority in any potentially dangerous workplace and I will be seeking assurances from the mines owners that they have taken this into account when deciding on these new job losses.

“I already have concerns that the new 11.5 hour shifts could have an effect on safety and I would like a guarantee that proper consultations will take place if there are any further changes to the shift pattern and that the high temperatures and hazardous conditions are taken in to account when changes are made.

“My thoughts are with the workforce and their families at this difficult time, I will do all I can to help them. I have already contacted on-site union representatives and I will be working closely with them through the redundancy process. I would also like to reiterate the calls I made for enhanced redundancy payments when previous job losses were announced.”

You can read Tom’s concerns about redundancy payments here.

GMB joins Community, USDAW and the MU in nominating Owen Smith

GMB logo

The GMB union is the fourth union to nominate the challenger Owen Smith for Labour leader. It is also the first to take its decision via a general vote of members.

The union, which represents over 600,000 working people, voted for Owen over the current leader Jeremy Corbyn by 60% to 40%.

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

Unionised working people are having their say on this Labour leadership contest. Steelworkers, binmen, lollypop ladies, defence sector workers, welders, factory workers, bus drivers and thousands of others are saying they need a Labour government – they need Owen Smith for leader.

I hope that the voices of these organised working people will be heard over heckles of disorganised protesters who for too long have been allowed to drown out serious concerns about our present leadership.

It is no coincidence that the first union to nominate a candidate by a ballot of all its members nominated Smith by such an overwhelming margin. Tim Roache he is a real leader and one who listens to the working people of this country.

I hope Unison will follow GMB’s lead in endorsing the only candidate in this election who can save the Labour party and the NHS we created.

For more details visit GMB’s website.