Labour’s ‘Build it in Britain’ plan offers our steel industry a bright future

At Community, we welcome the Labour Party’s ‘Build it in Britain’ plan to support 400,000 new jobs as part of a green economic recovery. If enacted, the policy could have real benefits for Community members including those in the steel industry. Labour has pledged that sector deals, including the deal for the steel sector, will protect jobs and promote the shift to net zero. This plan for a strategic transition is key to ensuring that British jobs and the steel industry are here for years to come.

The UK faces enormous challenges, both socially as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting unemployment crisis, and environmentally as we struggle to meet our targets under the Paris Climate Change agreement and the pledge to reach net zero by 2050. A green recovery is an opportunity to provide solutions to both problems at once, with new green jobs accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy and giving us a fighting chance against climate change.

When we talk about a green recovery, however, it’s important that we treat key industries that already exist in the UK, like steel, in the right way. We know that our steel industry must evolve over time. But we must recognise that the steel industry is also vital to our economy and national security and that maintaining primary steelmaking capacity is essential. Commitments to reaching net zero must include ways to support existing industries to decarbonise in a just way. That’s why it’s so important for the sector that the UK deliver a strategic plan to help it become greener and ensure a long-term future.

The government must support the steel industry to move from blast furnaces to greener alternatives such as hydrogen and carbon capture. Doing so in a planned way, working closely with employers and trade unions will offer a long-term greener future that safeguards jobs and keeps steel in Britain. 

This Conservative government has let thousands of jobs go overseas in a frenzy of outsourcing – and steel jobs cannot be next. We know that the environmental cost of imported steel is greater than that of domestically produced steel. Any transition that doesn’t keep steel in the UK is a false economy: net pollution goes up, and livelihoods are destroyed.

We need to build in Britain to support our economy and our future. If we don’t keep just transition at the front and centre of our thinking, we risk outsourcing our carbon emissions without truly reducing them. And we risk leaving thousands of people across Britain out of work and without hope.

In addition to the commitments on sector deals, we welcome Labour’s call for a green public procurement strategy. To truly help the steel industry, the economy and the environment, there must be an overhaul in the way that government contracts are awarded to ensure that UK workers and supply chains benefit from any new investment.

The government must make environmental and social considerations central to the procurement tendering process. Ministers should think about the issues just discussed: the benefits to our country of having good jobs here, and the environmental risks of importing steel from overseas. 

Setting out a framework that forces public procurement decisions to make explicit consideration of environmental and social concerns is so important in ensuring that government uses its considerable spending power to drive positive change. Tens of thousands of jobs and the future of many communities depend on us making the right choices. So, too, does the future of our planet.

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