A business minster has backed calls for metal recyclers to be given additional support as the wider industry struggles with thousands of jobs lost at UK steel plants.
The encouraging message for recyclers came at the launch in London of a new strategy from the Metals Forum, an alliance of associations which includes the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA).
The initiative follows months of planning but comes within days of the loss of thousands of steel jobs at plants on Teesside and in Scotland.
Tata Steel is due to confirm that 1,200 jobs are being cut at its plants in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire. Earlier this month, SSI liquidated its Redcar business and 2,100 people were put out of work. Meanwhile, administrators from PwC have been appointed to 16 out of 20 units of the specialist steel manufacturer Caparo Industries.
Metals Forum representatives argue that cheap Chinese steel imports and unfair energy costs compared to competitors are key reasons for the shock waves going through the industry.
BIS minister Anna Soubry, pictured, who has been directly involved in the Government’s response to the crisis, was at the strategy launch held in the BIS offices.
She said she was sympathetic to the challenges identified in the strategy and that the situation in the industry had “sharpened political minds in all the right places”.
The Prime Minister believed that steel was a vital industry for the UK, she added, and action was being taken on skills, the supply chain and procurement, with more announcements to come.
There was an acknowledgement that UK energy prices were an issue: “It seems perverse that government does bad things to an industry that we need to make our economy good and strong,” the minister said.
On recycling she said: “I could be very naughty and say that I find people who recycle should be given extra bonus points. I don’t want to make any promises because I can’t but in me there is a lot of sympathy that people who recycle should be recognised”.
Time was of the essence for the entire industry, she said.
“This is not a question of government reporting back in the New Year. This is stuff that will start in the next few days and weeks because we all recognise the vital part metals play in our plans for our future.
“We will do everything we can to create a level playing field so it is fair. That is not an unreasonable ask and you have come up some great ideas.”
Jon Bolton, who chaired the strategy steering group, emphasised the scale of the metals industry, employing 230,000 people directly with 11,000 companies contributing £200bn to the economy. That was why the different groups and companies were all backing the new strategy.
“We look to raise the voice of the metal sector in a way that has not been possible in the past. We can help the UK government in its vision for the economy”.
A starker warning came from Bolton’s deputy on the group and managing director of Norton Aluminium in Walsall, Henry Dickinson.
“The clear lessons from the past are that once strategic plants like these close it is highly unlikely they will ever be rebuilt in the UK in our lifetimes. Their loss to the UK is permanent and with them go the skills, supply chains and the technical foundations on which they are built.”
Steel industry stress, resource prices, cost of energy & global markets demonstrates absolute need for integrated long term policies
— S Hayward-Higham (@stuhhigh_SUEZ) October 20, 2015