I started as a Liberty steelworker in 1978. Here’s why government must back us

Clive Royston

I started working at Liberty Steel’s Stocksbridge site in 1978, following in the footsteps of my grandad. My son works at Stocksbridge too, and everyone in our community either works here or has family or friends that do. I am proud of my industry, and I am proud to be a steelworker.

When I first started, Stocksbridge employed nearly 10,000 people, and of course things have changed over time. But what hasn’t changed is that our community is based around our steelworks: it is the beating heart of the town and has been for 180 years. The hundreds of good jobs at Stocksbridge drive the local economy, with each Liberty Steel job supporting a further two jobs in the community.

At Stocksbridge, we know we face huge challenges. We make top quality high-tech steels that go into aerospace, and clearly that sector has suffered with the pandemic. This, combined with the collapse of Liberty’s main financial backer, Greensill, means we are all concerned for the future.

But while we have concerns, we are confident that with government backing our business, and indeed all the Liberty Steel businesses, we can have a bright future. At Stocksbridge, we are a strategic partner for major companies like Rolls Royce and Airbus, and we are a critical part of the supply chain for key economic sectors including defence and energy, as well as aerospace. With the right support, our business can be profitable, though government must address the fact that we pay twice as much for electricity as our European competitors.

No other UK company can make the steels we do, and some things we make cannot be done by any other steelmaker in the world. Should we close, Britain would have to import the steels we produce, meaning we would have to rely on other countries to supply us with critical steels including for our military. Britain needs our steel, and as we go forward as an independent country Britain will need our skills and expertise.

The steels we make are environmentally friendly, too. Liberty Steel is the biggest low-carbon steelmaker in the UK, and if our government is serious about net zero then supporting our businesses must be central to their strategy. There would be nothing green about letting us close and bringing in imports from the other side of the world.

In 2019, for the first time ever, the constituency of Penistone and Stocksbridge elected a Tory MP. People wanted to see change, and they put their trust in the Conservatives to support our community and support our industry. Our new MP Miriam Cates has been at the forefront of efforts to safeguard Stocksbridge and Liberty Steel, but we need our Prime Minister to understand exactly what’s at stake here. People in communities like mine have given the Tories a chance, and we see Liberty Steel as a test of the government’s commitment to industrial communities across the UK.

Our government must be ready to intervene to protect our jobs and the strategic steel assets. When some companies go bust others may emerge to fill their place, but history tells us this is not the case for the steel industry. We need government to back us so we can play our part in rebuilding and greening our economy, and because once steel businesses die they are gone forever.

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