Nationalise British Steel if rescue deal cannot be agreed, urges union

The Government is being urged to nationalise British Steel if a deal cannot be reached to avoid the firm collapsing into administration.

Unite said it would be an “economic catastrophe” if the company went out of business.

The Government has reassured MPs it will “leave no stone unturned” in supporting the UK steel industry.

Business minister Andrew Stephenson told the Commons the Government would do everything it could, within its legal parameters, to support the industry.

Andrew Stephenson
Andrew Stephenson (Dave Thompson/PA)

“I can reassure the House that, subject to strict legal bounds, the Government will leave no stone unturned in its support for the steel industry,” he said.

There are fears that British Steel could go into administration if it does not receive financial help from the Government to secure its future.

Almost 5,000 workers are employed by the company, mainly in Scunthorpe, with another 20,000 employed by firms in the supply chain.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “While Unite is in continuing dialogue with British Steel and the UK Government, we are very clear that if a deal cannot be struck to secure the long-term future of the steelmaker under private ownership, that the Government must bring it under public control in the national interest.

“British Steel’s success is key to any future UK industrial strategy. It is a strategically important business which supplies other UK steelmakers with product and provides 95% of the UK’s rail tracks.

“It would be an economic catastrophe if the worst were to happen and Government was to allow British Steel to collapse. It is a national asset supporting UK plc that cannot simply be left to the market.”

Alasdair McDiarmid, operations director at the Community union, said it is vital for cool heads to prevail and British Steel owners Greybull and the Government continue to focus on finding a solution that maintains employment and keeps the business trading.

“The public should know that if British Steel were liquidated, on top of the devastation of yet more steel communities, the clean-up costs for the industrial sites could end up costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds.

“Pragmatic decisions in the coming days could avert another industrial disaster. In that context we do not want to see British Steel becoming a political football, the stakes in this game are too high.”

Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: “British Steel has supplied Network Rail with more than half a million tonnes of high-quality rail over the past five years” – 95% of Network Rail’s requirement.

“In September British Steel signed a two-year contract extension to supply Network Rail with a further 4,000km of rail.”

Gill Furniss, shadow minister for steel, said: “The UK steel industry is critical to our manufacturing base and is strategically important to UK industry. The Government must intervene.

“Administration would be devastating for the thousands of workers and their families who rely on this key industry in a part of the country which has not had enough support and investment from government over decades.”

The government must intervene on British Steel – @GillFurnissMP

— Labour Press Team (@labourpress) May 21, 2019

Ross Murdoch, national officer of the GMB union, said: “Given this latest speculation, these are understandably extremely difficult times for our members.

“Yesterday the Government, alongside trade unions and employers, signed a UK Steel Charter at Westminster.

“They must now put their money where their mouth is.”

Last week British Steel announced it had the backing of key stakeholders and that operations would continue as normal.

The company has asked for a package of support to tackle Brexit-related issues

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