Coming from a typical working-class family meant that, even though I succeeded academically at school, university was never going to be an affordable option. I had to look for options to support my family while gaining decent qualifications.
Everyone in Scunthorpe knows someone reliant on the steel industry for their livelihood. When I was trying to decide what to do with my future, my uncle John showed me an advert in the local paper for an apprenticeship on the steelworks and it seemed like the perfect solution. My apprenticeship gave me confidence, a career, and a future.
I am proud to say I was a steelworker. Scunthorpe is a steel town, and everyone told me when I got my job that the steelworks was a job for life. People knew it as a job that provided a good life for many people in the town.
Colleagues of mine had worked at the site since they left school at 16, putting in over 40 years of hard work and dedication. They survived its privatisation by Thatcher’s Tory government, persevered through numerous sales and restructures.
The workforce has been dedicated and versatile. They delivered everything asked of them, sometimes at a great cost to the workers and the community. But little of this seems to matter to the current government.
Today’s collapse of talks for emergency funding, and British Steel’s decline into insolvency, is a disaster not just for the 5,000 workers, but the whole town. Contract firms, engineering firms and steel stockyards rely on the industry. Ancillary firms like cafés and safety equipment providers need it to survive. The government’s refusal to act will leave a crater in Scunthorpe’s economy.
But steel matters to more than just Scunthorpe, it’s one of our country’s great industries. In the 19th century Britain was the world leader in steel production and played a huge part in the industrial revolution. Throughout most of the 20th century we remained one of the world’s most efficient producers of steel.
The decline of this industry was not inevitable. When Margaret Thatcher’s government privatised British steel in 1988, it was part of an attack on our entire industrial base that now looks more like sabotage. Since then, while developed countries like Japan, the United States, South Korea and Germany have remained world leaders in steel production, Britain’s industry has fallen behind.
Consecutive British governments have failed to protect British steel with even minimal measures like procurement strategies that favour UK manufacturing. On an international level, they consistently opposed increased tariffs on imported steel. Combine this with privatisation and a reluctance to intervene in crisis let alone invest consistently on a state level, and today’s announcement should come as no surprise.
There are those that say there shouldn’t be a bailout, that if the industry can’t survive without intervention then it isn’t meant to be. To those people I say, if it’s good enough for the bankers at Canary Wharf it is good enough for the steelworkers of Scunthorpe.
But it is time for the government to go beyond a bailout. The Conservative Party helped to create this mess, now it is time they got off their hands and stood up for one of Britain’s great industries. It’s time to nationalise British Steel and put in place a long-term plan to restore the industry, to retain decent, well-paying jobs and to compete on the international level.
People I worked with are worried about how they will pay their mortgage, how they will afford to care for their families, where will they be able to find another job. Even those in Scunthorpe who didn’t work in steel are worried about the knock-on effects on their jobs and livelihoods. What happens in the coming days will determine the future of not just an industry but a town, and in doing so it will say much about what direction our country is moving in.
I would not be where I am today without the steelworks. I want my children, grandchildren and the generations that follow to have those same opportunities. The time for government inaction is over – Theresa May, step in and save British Steel.