Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Steel - not too big to fail...apparently



We heard it so often during the banking crisis, didn't we, that expression 'Too big to fail'.
And because our banks were 'too big to fail' our government pumped billions and billions of pounds worth of taxpayers money into them to stop this 'vital industry' from collapsing.
So what about steel?
Well, it seems that this industry, in spite of the fact it is regarded as a critical national asset (let's face it, the ability to make something as basic as steel in this volatile and unpredictable world is probably a good thing), is not too big to fail...which is why we don't see our government rushing to the piggy bank once more.
The best they can do, according to Anna Soubry (she's our Business and Enterprise Minister, apparently) is to 'work tirelessly' to find someone to buy Tata Steel's UK plants...I guess they're working as 'tirelessly' as they did to find buyers for the steel plant at Redcar...
Funny that they didn't first look to see if anyone wanted to buy a bank or two during that particular crisis!

But, I hear people cry, Port Talbot is losing a million pounds a day. How can we afford to support that??
Yes, that is an awful lot of money.
But when you hear from the National Audit Office that the government's bail out of the banking sector and money markets has cost £850 billion, then suddenly Port Talbot's losses look like pretty small beer in comparison (and before you ask, that £850 billion represents a million pounds a day for 2,328 years!!!!).
But why is Port Talbot losing so much?
Could it have something to do with the fact that, quite bizarrely, there is not a rule in government that any national infrastructure project (for example, the new Forth crossing) must use British-manufactured steel?
Or could it be that we live in a country where energy prices are so ridiculously inflated by the big six energy firms that any industry is at an immediate disadvantage when competing with almost every other country on the planet?
Or could it be that our own government, so eager to cosy up to the Chinese, doesn't have the balls to slap a bloody great tariff on the cheap, Chinese government-subsidised steel that is flooding the international market? (Sorry, we can't do that because of EU rules!)

So, my friends, it seems that we have a choice.
Do we allow another critical UK manufacturing capability disappear and the blast furnaces fall silent, or do we instead say to the workers at Port Talbot, Rotherham, Shotton and Corby: 'Okay guys, here's what we're going to do. We're going to buy your steelworks and help you out, and we're going to give each and every one of you a stake in the future of your new company so you're really motivated. Now it's up to you to make it work,  so no massive pay demands, no bitching about your pension, none of that industrial action shit! And as an added fillip, we'll make sure that every major infrastructure project in this country buys from you. Just make sure the quality and the delivery is up to scratch!'

I, for one, wouldn't mind my government using some of the money it doesn't have to shore up the steel industry for a while and, at the same time, keep thousands off the dole and save whole communities from dying a slow and painful death.
Not that I think the government will actually do anything - after all, how many ordinary steelworkers have made contributions to the Conservative Party...?