steel furnace

HS2 should be using more British steel, Unite says

Image credit: DT

The trade union Unite has criticised the government for failing to ensure that the HS2 rail project is using steel produced in the UK.

As one of the largest construction projects in Europe, HS2 requires millions of tonnes of steel to be built.

However, in a recent series of parliamentary questions, the Department for Transport (DfT) admitted that is has not placed mandates on using domestically produced steel.

The lack of proactive government action is “alarming”, Unite said, which has also led to “growing uncertainty” about the long-term wellbeing of the UK steel industry.

The union represents thousands of steel workers in a domestic sector which has faced tough competition from China and other markets in recent years.

In 2020, British Steel was bought by Chinese firm Jingye Group in a last-ditch effort to secure the jobs of around 3,200 of its employees.

Just before its collapse, the head of trade association UK Steel implored the government to ensure that HS2 sourced its steel from UK firms in order to provide a boost to the domestic industry.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “The government must immediately develop clear targets on UK steel usage on publicly funded construction projects. In the case of HS2, UK producers should have a paramount place in producing steel for the project. Surely that is economic common sense?

“Unite is dedicated to defending the jobs, pay and conditions of its members. So this failure of the government’s procurement policies will be challenged by my union. You could not make it up.”

The UK steel industry is facing particularly challenging market conditions at the moment, with depleted customer demand and rapidly rising energy costs that risk making domestic steel manufacturing uneconomical.

Unite national officer for steel Harish Patel said: “Steel is a key foundation industry and it is absolutely essential that it receives practical support from the government. That should start with ensuring that government funded projects always purchase UK steel whenever possible.

“Steel workers throughout the UK many of whom live in so-called red wall seats will be alarmed and fearful with the government’s inaction. It brings into question yet again whether the government is really serious about levelling up or if it is simply a soundbite.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “HS2 is a once-in-a-generation investment in the UK’s transport infrastructure and we expect it to have a lasting impact on jobs, skills and businesses here in the UK.

“The government and HS2 Ltd have engaged extensively with the British steel industry over the last five years to ensure that it is in the best possible position to compete for contracts.”

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