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Steeling oneself for change

Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail, a smile from a veil? Do you think you can tell? Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts – hot ashes for trees,?

Blimey it’s a bit of a mess down there in South Wales. By that, I don’t mean the actual place nor the people, all of whom are, in my experience, rather lovely. Rather, I’m referring to the metaphorical mess that Tata, the owners of what was once the British Steel mills, seems to have got into.

Business minister Sajiv Javid has been beetling away to try and come up with some kind of rescue plan that saves the thousands of Welsh jobs without having to pour millions of taxpayers’ cash into it. It would be a pity f, after all the pain we went through in the last eight years if austerity economics if we had to empty the Treasury coffers saving Port Talbot.

Of course, it’s not just the steel mills themselves that would be affected should the plants close. Steel is an integral part of our everyday lives – and this industry – and whole five year business plans have been built on the basis of being able to use home grown, locally produced steel in the manufacture of products. It’s a simple thing to say “OK we’ll just buy our steel from Germany or China now”. It’s much more complicated to actually implement it.

My father used to run a steel works in Rotherham in the 1970s so it’s an industry that’s always been close to my heart. I know the world has changed and that what worked back then doesn’t work now and that big global businesses like Tata still have to turn a profit. Loss-making subsidiaries don’t usually make for a healthy parent group in the long-term.

Having said that, Stephen Kinnock MP, in whose Aberavon constituency Port Talbot sits, reckons that the £1m a day losses have been seriously overstated, and that the job cuts and other efficiency measures implemented since the autumn, as well as the fall in the value of the pound, have helped reduce those losses.

I don’t really know enough about the finance or the set-up to have any kind of informed view, I just know that the thought of thousands of Welsh steelworkers out of work is a) something to be scared of and b) only the tip of the iceberg. If the British steel industry collapses under the weight of cheap, government-sponsored imports from the Far East, then the European steel industry is also going to struggle, in spite of the rather larger subsidies it receives from its respective governments.

The whole problem, it seems, stems from the influx across the world of cheap, government subsidised steel from China. The very same place that our Government has been courting like mad, in order to generate massive inward investment.

Has George Osborne sacrificed the British steel industry for Hinckley Point? It’s rather looking as though he has.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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