What's really happening in the steel industry


The Guardian worries about what is happening in Redcar and Scunthorpe to the steel industry of Britain:

Politics seems to have absented itself from the old industries. They still employ hundreds of thousands of people, support a highly skilled workforce and contribute millions of pounds in value to Britain’s exports, yet Mr Osborne, who made building the motif of his conference address and put the Northern Powerhouse as its geographical heartland, was speaking of Manchester, innovative science and new technologies. Nor did Mr McDonnell have anything to say about the old industries and their communities that return scores of Labour MPs and employ thousands of trade unionists (although he did say the fate of Redcar workers inspired his U-turn on the fiscal charter). His new team of economic advisers might talk, as the economist Mariana Mazzucato does, of the entrepreneurial state, but it is not the fate of steel workers that inspires their theories.

Steel is a foundation industry for any economy that is based on manufacturing. Closing the plant, supporting and retraining the workforce and cleaning up the site will cost hundreds of millions of pounds. The old industries need a new industrial strategy.

Oddly enough, it was one of us here at the ASI, who explained what is going on with the steel industry. In an article. In the Guardian.

However, no one wants the two blast furnaces there which make up the other part of the plant, as we can now make our ingots of steel out of scrap. It's a standard assumption in the metals world that no one will ever again build a new blast furnace in the rich, industrialised countries. Not only do we not need them, we don't need all the ones we've already got.

So, as I say, that half of the Florange plant is closing because the hippies have won – as they should indeed have done on this one particular point.

Yes, there's high energy costs in the UK as a result of the green obsessions. Yes, Chinese made steel is cheap right now. But the real underlying point is that both Redcar and Scunthorpe are based upon blast furnaces and that's just a level of technology that we don't need very much in this country any more. As a result of everyone going off and doing what we've been urged to do for decades now, work out how to recycle things.

That is, the closing of blast furnaces is evidence of the success of an industrial strategy. Sure, might be a good strategy, might be a bad one, but it is the result of a quite deliberate strategy.