When I was growing up in Penistone, we used to go swimming in Stocksbridge every Saturday and drive past the vast steel works rising up at the bottom of the valley. In my late teens, we lived opposite Stocksbridge Speciality Steel, on Unsliven Road. An iconic part of the landscape, the thrum of noise and activity, of buses of workers arriving in the early morning. The steelworks have been the beating heart of the local community and economy since the 1840s – over 180 years. Steel runs in people’s veins and is woven into people’s histories.
Consequently, it was heart breaking to find out that HMRC is planning to pull the plug on this constant industrial force, which today employs around 750 people. Families across Stocksbridge and the surrounding area rely on these jobs and closure of the plant would be a disaster for this community, as well as the economy.
A blow to the community and the country
Skilled workers would be lost and livelihoods put at risk while local people are already facing the biggest drop in living standards for 30 years. After nearly two years of all the damage that Covid-19 has done to the economy and to people’s wellbeing, closure would be a heavy blow.
Allowing plants owned by Liberty Steel to close, like the one in Stocksbridge, is short sighted and unacceptable. These steelworks should be part of our future too: they are essential to delivering net zero and driving green steel solutions.
Like Rotherham, the Stocksbridge site makes tougher, anti-corrosive steel that is, amongst other things, used for oil and gas exploration and the aerospace industry.
The government is missing in action
And it’s happening on the Conservatives’ watch. Over the last 12 years, their government has failed to back Britain’s steel industry, to invest in green steel and protect our steelworks from unfair foreign competition. Compare this to other governments around the world, who have committed to long-term strategic investment in the industry.
The Conservative government’s failure to invest in gas storage and manage energy prices also means that these plants have been working on reduced capacity, despite the global high price of steel.
The party that alleges it wants to level up the areas where I grew up, is allowing these industrial giants to wind up. It doesn’t need to be this way. The Liberty Steel sites across South Yorkshire, in Stocksbridge and Rotherham, should be part of the answer to energy storage and growing the green economy locally.
We need investment in the steel industry and collaboration with UK steelmakers in order to ‘green’ steel as part of our route to net zero. This is an opportunity to create thousands of new, well-paid jobs.
Unions have said that their experts have advised that “with the right framework of support Liberty Steel can have a sustainable future” and the government has an “important role to play in providing that framework”.
But the government is currently missing in action at the exact moment it should urgently address our unaffordable energy prices by supporting the greening of our steel industry.
Protect this hugely important asset
The owner, GFG, is accountable for its actions but, as the main steel unions point out, “Ministers must be ready to step in should that be required”.
Labour has said last autumn that they would invest £3bn over the next decade to green the steel industry. Just this weekend, Sheffield Council leaders have again called for the government to protect this “hugely important local asset” so it can continue to operate.
GMB, Community and Unite have taken a stand too, making it clear that “under no circumstances can our plants be allowed to close”. They are leading the way on brokering a solution, calling on HMRC and the GFG Alliance – Liberty Steel’s parent company – and HMRC to “get back round the table and hammer out a deal that provides space for the company to refinance”.
Sign the petition to safeguard Stocksbridge Speciality Steel jobs
Communities like ours need action not more words. If, like me, you want Stocksbridge Specialty Steel safeguarded, for our skilled steel worker’s jobs and livelihoods to be protected, and investment in the steelworks as part of a green economic recovery, please sign the change.org petition. Help us tell the government we won’t stand for this.