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The steel industry will do whatever it takes to support the national effort, but needs radical Government action now

Wednesday 18 March 2020

The steel industry is committed to doing anything it can to support the national effort to tackle coronavirus. Whether that is adapting production lines to provide necessary components for hospital equipment, prioritising supply of specialist materials, or providing skilled workers for the manufacture of vital equipment: the steel industry stands ready to support the Government.

We must also be honest about the scale of the challenge for our own sector. In the absence of further major Government interventions, a pro-longed shutdown of the UK economy will quickly become terminal for the steel industry, leaving tens of thousands of workers without a job to support their families. Critically, primary steel production sites do not have the flexibility to simply ‘switch off’ production without major long term consequences.

The measures already announced by the Chancellor to support business are to be welcomed, but we need details and more action over the coming days to ensure that our workers are supported and that they will have a business to come back to once this crisis is over. Our message is clear – nothing should be off the table at this time.

The key recommendations for the steel industry in order for it to continue serving the United Kingdom are:

  1. Introduce a ‘short-time working’ scheme, to financially support workers if companies need to reduce hours and production
  2. Immediate provision of liquidity to businesses, in the form of loans or grants to cover operational and necessary capital costs. Usual state-aid restrictions must be relaxed here
  3. Reduction of operational costs for businesses by suspension or deferment of key costs such as PAYE, NI, Business Rates, EU ETS, and other non-safety critical regulatory costs.

UK Steel Director General, Gareth Stace, said: “We welcome the Government’s clear commitment to do whatever it takes to defeat coronavirus, and we, the steel industry, are today joining the Government in that commitment. But in order to do so, we need to be able to pay our workers and keep production lines going, that means cash. In these unprecedented times, we are asking Government to build on the support already announced, help us to ensure that our workers are supported now and crucially still have jobs when this crisis is over.”

Community General Secretary, Roy Rickhuss CBE, said: “Steelworkers are doing all they can to keep production lines running at this difficult time but people are worried for the future. We need Government to be clear that people’s earnings will be protected and jobs and skills can be retained. The Government’s approach to British Steel over the past year was the right one to ensure the continuity of the business. Now we are asking for the Government to step-up again and give confidence to steelworkers across the UK that we can get through this crisis.”

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