The week began in a fanfare of media as Tata announced they had agreed 'subject to contract' the sale of their Long Products Business to Greybull Capital. This comes after painstaking work including the trade unions, the workforce, suppliers and others. Everyone is very positive that, once finalised, this will see the return of the iconic British Steel brand - something we all feel very proud of.
The workforce is being balloted on changes to contract with the result expected this week. And there are still a few issues to be sorted out on contracts and the financing package. But fingers crossed it looks as though things will move forward positively and a new chapter in the history of Scunthorpe steelmaking will begin. At the same time as announcing progress in the sale of their Long Products Business Tata announced they were looking to dispose of all their other UK steel assets raising serious questions about the future of UK steelmaking. The future of Port Talbot and other plants is particularly uncertain. So we had a Statement on Steel on Monday followed by an emergency debate on Tuesday - both opportunities to put pressure on the Tory Government to up its game before it's too late. To be fair their rhetoric has now changed and there is a grudging recognition of the need for an industrial strategy. But it has always been a case of too little too late.
Finally, after over 3 years, we have some mitigation of the high energy taxes borne by steelmakers. The Government has produced better procurement guidelines but they are yet to be tested. If Dong Energy uses UK Steel to build its massive North Sea wind-farm it will show the guidelines are working. If it doesn't it will mean they are not worth the paper they are written on as UK taxpayers and UK energy bill payers money is used to buy foreign steel.
On business rates the Conservative Government has completely failed to deliver - ducking the opportunity of the recent Budget Statement to take action to level this playing field. And on Chinese dumping there have been some small moves whilst blocking the EU Commission from going as far as steelmakers across Europe would like and dropping the so-called 'lesser duty rule' which is very disappointing.
It was good to see a clear Labour commitment to backing our steel industry on the leaflets going out in the Sheffield Brightside by-election when I and other local Labour Party members were campaigning there this week.
Back in Parliament there was a lot of unease on the Government benches about the intention to force all schools to become academies. There was particular concern about the impact on small rural primary schools and the removal of schools’ right to choose whether or not to be academies. There was a general sense of if it ain't broke why fix it! Responding for Labour, as Shadow Schools' Minister, I focused on these concerns and asked the question why are Conservatives wanting to remove the right of parents to be elected by their peers to sit on their children's school governing body. The Government had no answer to any of these questions!!! So I sense this will be an argument that will run and run!
The news that Scunthorpe Hospital has been judged inadequate is very disappointing. I know people working there are doing their absolute best to deliver the best outcomes for local people and this will come as a severe blow to them. Some of the problems stem from the national problem of recruiting sufficient nurses. The Government's health reorganisation has clearly made matters worse and been exacerbated by severe cuts to social services funding and the mishandling of the junior doctors' contract. But there is no place for excuses and the local leadership of health services must work together to sort out the problems in the hospital in double quick time. Local people deserve nothing less.
I was really impressed by Scunthorpe Rotarians' organisation of the regional disability games held at the Pods. It was a fantastic event. A real celebration of competing and volunteering. Happy smiling faces all round. Smiling faces were also in abundance at my Dad's 90th birthday party - just ahead of the Queen who celebrates hers on Thursday. Happy Birthday from Scunthorpe Ma'am!
The week began in a fanfare of media as Tata announced they had agreed 'subject to contract' the sale of their Long Products Business to Greybull Capital. This comes after...
Well you might think things would be a bit quieter from the Westminster end of the business with Parliament in recess! Last week was anything but! Firstly the story closest to our community's heart - the future of UK steel. The hapless Business Secretary seemed to have got his weeks mixed up as he flew out a week after the Tata Board meeting to meet Tata chiefs in Mumbai. And given that steel MPs were pointing to the importance of the meeting at the last Prime Minister's Questions before the recess it's hard to believe that the Tory government was so asleep at the wheel that they were unaware of the significance of the meeting for the future of UK steel. Sadly the reality is that the Conservative Government doesn't believe on making the sort of intervention to support our steel industry that other governments do. Take the US who have slapped on tariffs of over 250% on Chinese steel. Or look at the way in which our european partners like Germany and France tackle energy costs for steel producers and ensure their public procurement is supportive of their strategic steel industry. After all that's what government is for: to intervene strategically.
Hopefully the painstaking work of the trade unions, Tata, Greybull Capital and suppliers will result in the conclusion this week of the positive transfer of ownership of the Long Products business, including the Scunthorpe Works, to Greybull. This will represent the start of a new chapter for steelmaking in Scunthorpe which we can all get positively behind.
Whilst the Tory Government was failing to act as a government and intervene appropriately to support our steel industry the Panama Papers opened the lid on what their priorities are. Their support from so many who have been hiding their wealth in offshore havens speaks volumes about whose interests they see as most important to protect. We are certainly not 'all in this together'! With parliament returning this week the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the whole government have many questions to answer.
Scunthorpe has been dominated recently in regards to Scunthorpe’s TATA steel works. I attended the TATA taskforce last Friday regarding the future of the steel works. Many representatives were present including fellow politicians, councillors and other representatives from the Job Centre, North Lindsey College and government organisations such as BIS.
Ballot papers were distributed to staff this week about the possibility of all staff taking a 3% cut to their wages for the first year in order to further the chances of Greybull buying the steel works. The reduction would be temporary, only lasting one year. As it is likely the steel works would lose a vast amount of money in the first year of a handover, it is strongly believed this would further the chances of Greybull making a final offer.
The announcement of these ballot papers came as the news broke that the chiefs from Greybull and TATA were reportedly meeting in London on Wednesday regarding making a deal for the purchase.
A jobs fair was also held at TATA this week, with various companies from different fields of work, advertising their vacancies to staff who already have and are facing losing their jobs. The companies present were diverse and included Siemens, HMP Doncaster, the local NHS and North Lincolnshire Council, alongside many others. This is the third event of its kind to be held at TATA.
I also enjoyed seeing the area outside my office being very busy recently due to both the school holidays and a dancing festival being held at the Plowright Theatre. It was good to see that local venues, such as the Plowright Theatre are still being used during school holidays.
Well you might think things would be a bit quieter from the Westminster end of the business with Parliament in recess! Last week was anything but! Firstly the story closest...
It’s been another week dominated by concern about the future of our steel industry with the announcement by Tata that it intends to divest itself of all its UK steel business. With calls being now made for Sajid Javid, the Tory Business Minister, to resign John McDonnell, the Labour shadow chancellor, said it was “shocking” that the Minister knew about the Tata board meeting but failed to understand the seriousness of the situation putting around 40,000 jobs and entire communities at risk. It underlines the incompetence of the Conservative Government and their failure to support our steel industry.
Since 2011 steel MPs like myself, alongside UK steel and the trade unions have been arguing for urgent Government action to level the playing field for UK steel. We’ve argued for action on energy costs, business rates, procurement and action on Chinese dumping. Instead of intervening on behalf of this core strategic industry the Conservatives have found every excuse for their inaction. Their “Not Me” Government means it’s always someone else’s fault – steelmakers, the unions, the EU, the last Labour government!!!
The reality, however, is quite different from their rhetoric.
The reality is that they could have acted much faster to mitigate the impact of their unilateral carbon floor tax on the steel industry. It’s taken them over three years to deliver their promise to act!!
The reality is that they could have done something ages ago about levelling the playing field on business rates. But even as recently as Osborne’s latest omnishambles budget there was no action taken to support the steel industry.
The reality is that on procurement they’ve been slow to deliver, only recently coming up with better procurement guidelines. And the proof of their effectiveness will be measured by whether companies like Dong use UK steel in their windfarms or not.
And on Chinese dumping the UK government has been stopping the EU Commission from taking the tougher action it wants to. So, as the future of UK steel lies in the balance, we get hand wringing from the UK Tories when what’s needed is precise, targeted intervention. While the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has made it clear we stand on the side of steelworkers senior Conservatives have been nowhere to be seen!
Here in Scunthorpe the original deadline for the transfer of ownership of Long Products from Tata to Greybull Capital has passed but there is a confidence that it will be completed in the next few weeks. At the Tata Task Force meeting we were updated on progress.
I had a very useful visit to BOC – a key supplier to the Tata works. I was also impressed with the investment in developing green energy fuels I saw by Vivergo at Saltend. These are just two more of the sort of manufacturing businesses that contribute so much to our area. And these are the sort of businesses that provide the quality jobs that drive our local economy.
There are many smaller successful businesses like Hornsby’s who contribute too. I was delighted to spend a morning travelling around with Hornsby’s bus passengers. It was great to see the world from their point of view and see the brilliant rapport drivers had with customers.
Finally I visited Scunthorpe Sea Cadets to see the excellent work they are doing. It was good to see young cadets learning their knots and to chat to another group about what they get out of the cadets. Wonderful!
It’s been another week dominated by concern about the future of our steel industry with the announcement by Tata that it intends to divest itself of all its UK steel...
Last week began with parliament adjusting to the news of the Work and Pension Secretary’s resignation over the Chancellor’s Budget proposals to cut disability benefits within the Personal Independent Payments. There were turbo charged exchanges in the Commons whilst the Conservative Government’s Budget began to fall apart. The Chancellor finally emerged to confirm that he was withdrawing the measures that had led to the resignation but couldn’t tell us where the £4.4 billion was now coming from!
By the middle of the week other aspects of the Budget were falling apart with Conservative Council leaders joining parent groups and others to denounce the Tory Government’s plans to remove parents’ right to sitting on schools governing bodies and to force all schools to academise by 2022. This is ideological nonsense and it’s not surprising that Mumsnet has added its voice to those opposing it. The Conservative Government would do better to spend its time tackling the problems of teacher recruitment, school places supply and exam chaos already happening on its watch!
By the end of the week the suggestion in the Budget that areas like Greater Lincolnshire and East Anglia were being criticised by Conservative Council leaders! I met with the Chief Executive of the Hull and Humber Chamber who once again expressed business leaders’ concerns about the devolution deal losing the focus on getting the best for the area around the Humber Estuary with its huge opportunity in terms of renewables.
I attended the launch of a positive, constructive report by Tata and IPPR on what needs to be done to support foundation industries like steel. This comes at a crucial point as the Greybull Capital process of acquisition nears – hopefully successful – conclusion. And Port Talbot is seen to be fighting for its life pitching turn around plans to Tata’s Indian Board. All a reminder that the UK Government still hasn’t done enough to level the playing field for UK steel. One of the big disappointments of the Budget is that they could have done more on – for example – business rates and chose not to.
It was good to present prizes to winners of the Access Awards at the Keith Fletcher Awards for the fifth year running and to join colleagues from across the sixth form college sector for David Igoe’s retirement event from the role of Chief Executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association in the House of Commons.
I dropped into the launch of Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Patient Charter and joined others for World TB Day – this is the world’s biggest infectious killer and it’s crucial we up our game through the Global Fund infighting it as it is very beatable!!!
Finally it was good to see the return of Graham Alexander to Scunthorpe United as the new manager reworded with a good draw at Barnsley and an excellent 6.0 win at home to Swindon. Up the Iron!!!!
Last week began with parliament adjusting to the news of the Work and Pension Secretary’s resignation over the Chancellor’s Budget proposals to...
I can't remember a Budget unravelling as fast as this one has. On Wednesday Chancellor Osborne strutted about commanding all before him in a bravado performance - a triumph of style over substance. A Budget that appeared to do nothing for steelworkers despite the pre-budget speculation with no move to equalise the playing field on business rates or anything else.
On schools the Tories announced the completely mad ideological move to force all schools to become academies whatever local parents or the community wants. And they also announced they are scrapping parent governors - more evidence they don't trust the very people who have the largest stake in their children's schools!
But what seems to have taken the biscuit is the Chancellor's decision to cut support for disabled people whilst giving the well-heeled extra tax cuts! It was too much for The Work and Pensions Secretary who spectacularly resigned on Friday exposing the huge divisions in the Conservative Party as well as their dishonesty at the last election!
One person who wouldn't have been surprised at this turn of events is Fred Kirk. When I first met Fred he told me he was known as Red Fred and proceeded to demonstrate the values of supporting others that he'd shown all his life. A wonderful family man who cared so much about our community; it was a privilege to join family and friends to say farewell to a great comrade as he was laid to rest at Scunthorpe Crematorium.
It was also a busy week for me speaking at various events. I responded for the Labour Opposition to a welcome Commons debate on the negative impact of making even more youngsters do the EBacc on the teaching of Design Technology. It's ridiculous to hamstring our ability to produce creative technologists and designers in this way just because of an ideological Tory target when there is no evidence it will be beneficial to anyone!
I then spoke at a conference of senior college managers giving an overview of the significant challenges facing the sector. I also took part in meetings of the Cancer and Pancreatic Cancer All Party Groups and met with the National Association of Teachers of English.
Finally, a highlight of the week was meeting up with local Sea Cadet leaders at an event celebrating the great work Cadet Forces do across the country.
I can't remember a Budget unravelling as fast as this one has. On Wednesday Chancellor Osborne strutted about commanding all before him in a bravado performance - a triumph of style...