Conversation over the last few weeks has been dominated by the steel crisis, and the news that Tata wish to sell their entire UK business.
The Cutlers’ Company has been deep in conversation about it, contemplating what, if anything we can do?
It is a crisis not only for Tata and their employees but also a crisis for the Government and it brings into sharp focus, the difficulties for UK manufacturing.
Successive governments have failed to provide the UK manufacturing sector with a level playing field, and this foundation industry is now in mortal danger.
While it is heartening that this government is desperately trying to save this patient, I fear that it may have been in the waiting room too long. The plant at Port Talbot appears uncompetitive, a victim of underinvestment and the prolonged absence of a credible UK manufacturing strategy.
The Cutlers’ Company has been highlighting the key issues for years and previous Masters have called for a “Minister for Manufacturing” and an “Office for Manufacturing Competitiveness” in order to ensure that our manufacturing industries get the support we require to compete on the global stage.
News has also just broken that Tata has agreed to sell its long products division, which includes the Scunthorpe plant, but not Rotherham or Sheffield. Unlike the plant at Port Talbot, I understand that Rotherham and Stocksbridge have some unique factors to their advantage. A niche product range, flexible production, and high levels of accreditation in place supplying manufacturers of mission critical parts.
I also heard that the Government are prepared to co-invest in the Port Talbot plant. This crisis management is rightly the focus of attention now but the Government must learn the lessons and see the need for industrial strategy.
And surely then they will recognise the need for the simple steps that need to be taken urgently to allow the businesses to prove their viability and, with the steel industry in mind, particularly a reduction in energy costs and competitive business rates.
And surely then, the Government will be able to implement a UK focussed procurement policy for government contracts.
Steel is today’s crisis and effort needs to be expended to find a solution but, in the longer term, we need an industrial strategy which seeks to support and grow manufacturing.