The Will Hutton solution to British Steel is obvious of course. Remain, government subsidy, sunlit uplands. This being the Will Hutton solution to everything.
However, such Olympian solutions always do suffer from those little technical problems, don’t they? That being why government subsidy directed by newspaper columnists is a less than wondrous solution. Here Hutton tells us that British Steel will be -= or could be, should be - saved by decarbonised steel:
What’s more, the company’s vital reinvention – around making decarbonised steel, say – and a general revived manufacturing industry requires a purposed industrial strategy on a much larger scale than what we have.
What’s being missed there is that we know how to make decarbonised steel. It’s easy. And we do a lot of it:
Blast furnaces such as the one at Scunthorpe make steel from scratch and, once shut down, are more or less impossible to replace. Greener, less energy-intensive electric arc furnaces, of which the UK has four, can make steel by recycling scrap.
Run your arc furnace off renewables created electricity and you’ve decarbonised steel production. It’s also nice and cheap to do so. Which is why we do do so. Decarbonising a blast furnace isn’t really an option for we’re looking for the chemical reaction between the carbon in the coal and the iron ore as well as the energy produced by the combustion.
Which is precisely British Steel’s problem. It runs a blast furnace. The old technology we need very much less of these days. Precisely because the hippies have won, we recycle much more. And, pace Will Hutton’s plans, we do produce decarbonised steel. It’s just that to do so we don’t need a blast furnace.
The entire problem over Scunthorpe is that we’ve already done what Hutton demands. Which is probably all we need to know about the wisdom and perspicacity of Willy Hutton’s demands, isn’t it?