While the political dramas in Westminster show little sign of slowing down, the news last week that British Steel was to enter insolvency was by far one of the most important – and worrying – developments. The potential loss of thousands of jobs directly is deeply concerning for many people and communities here in the North East and Tees Valley.
Steel remains a vital industry in many ways, so British Steel’s failure is not just a case of any old business going bust. The supply chains alone stretch across the country with many thousands of people’s livelihoods tied to its future.
The government has made reassuring signs on supporting affected communities should the worst come to the worst. But it must now focus its efforts on securing a new buyer and to safeguard the future of the British Steel sites.
If no credible buyer can be found, then it would be right in these acute circumstances for the government to intervene on a temporary basis only. It would then need to set out a plan to get the business back on a sustainable footing with a view to finding a buyer as swiftly as possible.
It’s certainly a complicated picture at the moment, with many reasons identified for the situation the company has found itself. But a false move could have significant implications. The vast majority of rail track in this country is produced domestically, for example.
While British Steel is the clear immediate risk that must be managed with great care, there is also a longer-term project that has been part forgotten in the Brexit melodrama – a comprehensive and successful Industrial Strategy rolled out to cities and regions across the country.
Delivering a modern industrial strategy that will make the UK the best place in the world to invest, innovate and improve living standards is within our grasp. It would be an alliance between government, business and civil society to work closely together to build successful jobs, companies and industries of the future. This could be from zero emission vehicles and high-end manufacturing, to super-speed broadband connections and better transport links across the North East and Tees Valley.
Only last week, the first Local Industrial Strategy was launched in the West Midlands and hopefully this can start a domino effect, building up momentum for many other areas of the country to roll out strategies that will deliver long-term sustainable economic growth to different regions. Joined up thinking and ambition at a local level that can help businesses to thrive whether directly or as part of big supply chains.
These Local Industrial Strategies will be all about the government working hand-in-hand with business and using the many levers any government has at its disposal to help firms grow and regions thrive. Our members are ready and willing to step up to the challenges and opportunities that this will bring and are engaging in the development of these local strategies right now.
So as eyes remain firmly fixed on the future of the British Steel sites, let’s make sure we get a quick – and sustainable – remedy to get the business back on a safe footing. But let’s look to the long-term as well, putting the building blocks in place for economic success here in North East for the years ahead.