As I write this blog, the members of the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff are getting ready to address the First Minister over the Welsh/UK steel crisis. The meeting was hastily reconvened after Assembly party leaders demanded the chamber be recalled from recess after it was announced at the end of last week that Tata Steel UK will be sold, putting around 30,000 direct jobs across the UK under threat. With over 4,000 of these jobs being based in Port Talbot, Wales the effect will be devastating and have a huge knock-on effect to the community and local economy, with the effect sure to be felt far afield.
Apart from the direct effect of job losses and the damage these will cause to the very fabric of the community, there are larger questions at stake. Should a nations’ government stand by while its steel industry is collapses or should it intervene? Is it ok to rely on foreign imports to supply the materials needed for your industry, energy and defence industries, to name a few? And how consistent is the treatment of steel industries across the EU, where unfair competition is supposedly stamped out to create an equal playing field?
On Monday, Wales’ First Minister Mr Carwyn Jones accused the UK government of opposing higher trade tariffs to protect Europe's steel industry. "Europe could do it, but the UK government has stopped them from doing it," he said. He further called for the UK government to redress the nation’s high energy costs and to be prepared to take over the running of Tata's steel works in Port Talbot if more time is needed to find a buyer.
The sale of Tata Steel comes hard on the heels of other severe blows to the UKs steel industry including the closure of the SSI plant in Redcar last year.
I interviewed Paul Barker, Managing Director of the British Stainless Steel Association this week; you can read his take on the current UK steel industry, including some of the challenges and opportunities on the horizon, in the upcoming May issue of Stainless Steel World magazine.