Anna Soubry, minister for industry and enterprise, has just made her second visit to Rotherham to discuss our steel mills. As she was taken around the site, you could see the realisation that rather than being the dying industry the media and 'experts' try to portray, our specialist steel is actually a very viable, flourishing business with a global order book. To give you some context; every plane that flies has steel from Rotherham or neighbouring Stocksbridge in it and we are the world leader in steel alloy manufacture.
The first time Soubry was here was six months ago for the Steel Summit to meet with MPs, Unions, TATA Steel and UK Steel to find a way to safeguard the industry. At the end of the summit we had four key things the government needed to address: cost of business rates, commitment regarding steel procurement for UK infrastructure projects, addressing high energy prices for industry and the use of tariffs. Had these recommendations been acted upon, she wouldn't have been back today, discussing ways to prevent the steel industry closing.
On Sunday, the secretary of state for business, Sajid Javid, said the decision by TATA's board in Mumbai to sell TATA UK was "unexpected". I find this comment offensive. How can it possibly be unexpected when for years Labour MPs have been holding debates in parliament to show just these consequences if the government didn't support this key industry. Let's be honest about this, Javid's position has always been an ideological one - leave everything to the market. But what he fails to understand, is that for years, he has been forcing the UK steel industry to compete with both hands tied behind its back.
China's steel is state run and massively subsidised, most European companies have heavily reduced energy costs for industry and the US has substantial tariff rates on imported steel, including steel from the UK. All we have ever asked the Government to do is level the playing field, then we will be able to compete effectively in the market.
Whilst I'm pleased the minister for industry now understands what we actually manufacture (an unkind soul would say she should have known this already) what concerns me is what will happen next. TATA needs to give clarity if the awful fate hanging over Port Talbot applies to all its UK concerns. If so, what will the government do to support the industry in the short term while a responsible buyer is found? Soubry talked the talk, she even mentioned the 'N' word (nationalisation!) but will she act?
We need to be given confidence that the Government does have a long term strategy for steel and will also intervene in the short term. These acts would give confidence to the market and give a breathing space so we have enough time to find a buyer who is committed to making sure the industry flourishes, rather than just making a quick buck through asset stripping. With a sale deadline mooted as four to six weeks, the time for PR is over. We need fast, dramatic intervention from Government or our steel industry will be lost forever.