Government must back British steelworkers, Labour tells Tories

Elliot Chappell

Labour has called on the government to “put UK steelmakers and workers first” with stronger “buy British guarantees” in the procurement process to ensure a preference for UK steel for major public infrastructure projects.

Commenting on analysis of official figures by the opposition party, showing that 24p in every pound spent on steel for government works went abroad in 2018/19, Labour’s Lucy Powell accused ministers of “failing to back UK steelmaking”.

The shadow minister for business and consumers described the capacity to produce steel domestically as a “cornerstone of our national security, economic prosperity and our fight to tackle the climate emergency”.

But the opposition party has highlighted that for the year 2018/19 UK steelmakers missed out on at least £25m worth of government funding for infrastructure projects with over 111,000 tonnes of steel imported for UK projects

“Ministers are failing to back UK steelmaking with weak procurement practices that undermine these efforts,” she added. “The pandemic has shown that we need to rebuild the foundations of our economy, and ensure we have resilient supply chains that support jobs and capacity here.

“Labour is calling on ministers to put UK steelmakers and workers first, with stronger Buy British guarantees in procurement notices, to maximise the benefits of infrastructure spending across our country, safeguarding and creating jobs and supporting our recovery, whilst reducing carbon emissions.”

The procurement pipeline outlines that the government plans to use nearly five million tonnes of steel over the next ten years on projects including HS2, Hinkley Point C, upgrading and maintaining motorways and the expansion in offshore wind.

Labour is calling for the government to introduce targets for the proportion of UK steel used in such major public works with a guarantee to state a preference for the use of UK-produced steel through the contracting process.

The party argued that putting in place stronger ‘buy British’ guarantees could safeguard and create 50,000 jobs, provide a £4.4bn boost to the economy through steel businesses and the supply chain and reduce carbon emissions from imports.

Analysis from UK Steel suggests that for every 1,000 tonnes of UK steel used in a public project delivers on average ten jobs, and between 150 and 560 tonnes in carbon emission reductions compared with importing from the EU or China.

The body has called on ministers to maximise the use of UK steel in government projects, including by setting UK steel content targets, establishing a stated preference for UK-produced steel and signing up to the UK steel charter.

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