Charles Moore: There Are Ways To Help The British Steel Industry

  • Date: 02/04/16
  • Charles Moore, The Daily Telegraph

We have been here before. In late May 1975, George Thomson, one of Britain’s two European Commissioners, flew to Cardiff. There he announced that cheap loans from the European Commission would safeguard the jobs of Welsh steelworkers. No doubt the promise helped the Yes vote in the British EEC referendum, which just happened to be a fortnight later. But in July, the Ebbw Vale converter mill and blast furnaces closed all the same.

More than 40 years on, there is pressure once again to save Welsh steel jobs, this time at Port Talbot. To the Government’s seeming surprise – surprising in itself, since it had fair warning about the state of the steel market – Tata, the owner, is living up to its name and saying goodbye. So far, the EU hasn’t coughed up anything, but there are still nearly three months to go before the referendum on our continuing membership, so watch out for the Brussels helicopter money fluttering from the air just in time. […]

One should not give the impression, however, that the Government can do nothing to help – although it may now be too late. George Osborne said this week, “We are cutting taxes on energy”, but this is true only modestly, and only in relation to the colossal prices that his very own green policies imposed earlier.

Carbon prices and renewable subsidies add between 65-80 per cent to the price steelmakers would otherwise be paying for their electricity, according to the Global Warming Policy Forum. Our electricity prices are the most expensive in Europe; our steel industry is a heavy user.

Sanjeev Gupta, whose company, Liberty House, is buying Tata’s steel sites in Scotland, says, “Scrap the carbon tax for energy-intensive industries. It kills industry, and industry will just continue to export production where they don’t have the tax.” If you tax energy punitively, as we do, you are deliberately targeting – as the very word “energy” suggests – the force that makes economies grow.

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