Steel crisis: Former Business Secretary accuses Government of losing interest in British industry

Former Business Secretary, Lib Dem Vince Cable
Former Business Secretary, Lib Dem Vince Cable

Vince Cable, former Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, said the Government has lost interest in coming up with a long-term industrial strategy as the steel industry flounders.

The last time the Government put together an industrial strategy for the nation was in 2012, when the Coalition called for Britain to focus on advanced manufacturing, aerospace technology, construction and energy.

Labour MP for Scunthorpe Nic Dakin.

Labour MP for Scunthorpe Nic Dakin.

That plan has not been updated since the Conservatives took control in 2015, and not a single policy document taking into account the escalating steel crisis exists.

On the country's 2012 strategy and analysis of key industrial sectors, Mr Cable said: "They capture the essence of what we were doing in government around industrial strategy in which this government has largely and disastrously lost interest."

And today there are calls today from Labour for the Conservative Government to create one immediately, ending what's perceived to be ideological resistance from the current Business Secretary Sajid Javid to commit to heavy industry.

The Conservatives voted down a motion presented by Labour in the House of Commons to create a new industrial strategy in October 2015, which would have helped support the steel industry.

Scunthorpe MP Nic Dakin said he can see no tangible reason why the Government would not want to draw up a plan as soon as possible.

The Labour MP said: "We have been saying for years that the Government needs to do a new industrial strategy. It's not rocket science. Under Vince Cable there were a series of pieces of work that did rank steel as a foundation industry but Sajid Javid has been asleep at the wheel.

"To be fair to the Prime Minister he has positively said, as well as junior minister Anna Soubry, that they believe in the steel industry and that there needs to be an industry in Port Talbot, but we have been arguing since 2011 they need to make action to support it.

"The Government are ideologically opposed to an industrial strategy, which demonstrates how wrong they are."

On Wednesday Tata Group announced it was planning to sell its UK steel sites due to lack of profitability and competition from cheaper products from overseas, understood to refer to the Chinese market.

Without a buyer coming forward there's potential for 15,000 jobs to go across the country, and many more in the supply chain.

The plant at Scunthorpe employing 3000 people was already in the process of being taken over by Greybull Capital, and this deal should be completed at month later than planed at the end of April.

Without producing its own steel, Britain will be unable to take a credible place at the international community's top table, warned Mr Dakin.

"Perhaps they have got an industrial strategy - a Chinese one. In some ways you can see where people are coming from when they say that. All this clap-trap about the Northern Powerhouse - it's it's rhetoric unless there's industry and manufacturing.

"Look at defence. Historically our steel would come from Scunthorpe and then go to Scottish mills. It would be ironic to use Chinese steel to build our own Trident defensive submarines," he said.

The Coalition Government listed the following sectors as key to their industrial strategy in 2012: aerospace, agricultural technologies, automotive, construction, information economy, international education, life sciences, nuclear, offshore wind, oil and gas and professional and business services.

York-born politician Vince Cable had said at the time that these were the industries considered to have the most potential in both domestic and overseas markets.

While steel production wasn't mentioned in the strategy, Mr Cable has since said saving the Port Talbot plant in Wales is an issue of national importance.

Sajid Javid is currently at Port Talbot meeting management, while workers gather outside.