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!