Time to stand up for Scottish steel
The announcement by Tata Steel of the mothballing of Clydebridge and Dalzell has come as a hammer blow to the workforce.
Our immediate thoughts are with the workers and their families and the uncertainty that this announcement creates. We can only wonder at the turmoil this has created in their lives. There is also the knock-on effect on local businesses that benefit from jobs at Clydebridge and Dalzell.
The Clydebridge plant in my constituency has been in existence since 1877, and steel has been a big factor in the local area. I remember as a youngster growing up in Halfway with the local Hallside steelworks dominating the area. The factory alarm used to sound out across the streets signalling the start and end of each shift.
So the fight to retain steel production at Clydebridge is not only about those who work there, but it is also about the need to keep the tradition of steel-making alive in this community. And what is needed now is action not words. I welcome the Scottish government setting up a local task force. However, this needs to provide clear leadership.
I have written to the UK Prime Minister and Scottish First Minister asking for action on a number of fronts.
Firstly, we need intervention from the UK and Scottish Governments to secure the plants. The Scottish Government intervened to save Prestwick because of its importance to the Ayrshire economy. I believe a similar intervention is needed at Clydebridge and Dalzell to save the iconic Scottish steel industry which is so important to the Lanarkshire and Scottish economy.
Secondly, all Scottish infrastructure projects should be buying their steel from Dalzell and Clydebridge. The new Forth Road Bridge used 37,000 tonnes of steel yet hardly any of it was forged in Scotland. More than half was made in Shanghai with most of the rest coming from Seville and Gdansk. I am aware that there are European rules on contracts but the Scottish Government needs to be more visionary in how it runs the bidding process.
At the SNP party conference, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance John Swinney announced a £170m rail project between Aberdeen and Inverness. The steel needed for these tracks should be purchased in Scotland to help save the jobs of our local workers.
Thirdly, the Scottish Government needs to take the lead to in helping Tata Steel reduce the running costs at Clydebridge. One of problems Tata face is significantly higher energy costs than European and global competitors. The Scottish Government should be using its leverage with Scottish Power and SSE to reduce these bills and help keep the plant going.
So these are difficult times for the workforce. This is a time for both governments to provide leadership. A taskforce is fine, but it must not become a talking shop. People’s jobs and livelihoods are at stake.
The workforce at Clydebridge and Dalzell are highly trained and we cannot afford to lose the skills and experience which has developed over the decades.
The traditions and the history of steel-making in the community must not be allowed to sink. Time to act – time to stand up for Scottish steel.