Leaders: How best to ensure the success of British Steel?

Bimlendra Jha, executive chairman of Longs Steel UK, embraces union officials Paul McBean (L) and Martin Foster. Picture: Hemedia
Bimlendra Jha, executive chairman of Longs Steel UK, embraces union officials Paul McBean (L) and Martin Foster. Picture: Hemedia
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STIFF tariffs are needed to protect industry from cheap Chinese imports but this can only be done from within the EU, at present

Today hopefully sees the start of a new era for the UK steel industry with the Tata signs about to be pulled down from its Scunthorpe plant and replaced by new ones proclaiming a name from the past – British Steel.

The deal safeguards thousands of jobs for British workers and new owners Greyball Capital articulate a future for the British steel industry that Tata could not.

Even trade union officials from Unite are advising members to accept a one-year pay cut of 3 per cent and changes to the pension scheme.

After two years of uncertainty and rumours, it will be hard for staff to reject the pay cut on the basis that a pay packet, with a small reduction, is quite literally a small price to pay to safeguard families and pay mortgages and bills. The salaries paid to the steel workers also support approximately 30,000 ancillary jobs.

But while not wishing to dampen the enthusiasm for the new era, this buy-out does raise some interesting questions about how exactly Britain safeguards its new steel industry.

The US has imposed highly punitive tariffs on steel imported from China as part of a package of measures to protect American workers and steel producers from cheap foreign steel. Heavily subsidised Chinese steel is being dumped in Europe because other countries have introduced stiff tariffs and the country is over-producing for its own needs in a slowing economy.

But unlike the US, Britain cannot legislate for tough tariffs on its own – tariffs are a matter for the European Union.

Britain has actually blocked EU changes that would have allowed a steeper tariff to be put in place, critics say with an eye to Chinese investment in major infrastructure projects in the country.

There can be little doubt that given the emergence of steel jobs and import tariffs into the public consciousness that the row will play a part in the forthcoming EU referendum. The argument will be that allowing Britain to set its own import tariffs would best help protect British jobs.

Another part of the steel controversy has been the revelation that high energy costs have helped make British Steel uncompetitive. Again there is an argument that without EU-set green energy targets, energy costs for Britain could fall if we left the EU (assuming, of course, we did not set our own equally ambitious targets).

But there is a flip side to that which should not be forgotten. Not only would a Britain out of the EU be able to set her own tariffs, so would the EU without any influence from Britain. Europe is our largest trading partner and any restrictions imposed on steel, or products manufactured from steel, or any energy, or products that were seen to be cheap because they used cheaper energy in their manufacture, might well in time be subject to punitive tariffs from the EU to perform what they would see as a levelling of the playing field.

Trade – and restrictions around it – is a two-way street.

Scottish country dancing for all

The mere prospect of Scottish country dancing disappearing would be a tragedy for generations of people throughout the world, not only Scots, who have enjoyed the community spirit it creates.

From the Queen dancing at the Ghillies’ Ball at Balmoral to ceilidhs in village halls in the Highlands or city centre venues, the chance to get up and take part in dances such as the Dashing White Sergeant or Strip the Willow is an opportunity not to be denied to future generations. These events are among the rare occasions when old and young can dance and genuinely socialise together, the energy of youth more often than not being topped by the skilful technique of older participants who have toned their techniques over the decades.

Ceilidhs are now a popular choice for school and university end-of term-celebrations, festivals often have one as their grand finale, complete with buffet and raffles. A far cry from the clubbing scene with a 2am start and a strict door policy to exclude the “inappropriately dressed – ie not “cool enough” or the indignity of being deemed too old by the security staff.

Indeed while ceilidhs can attract a fair share of those dressed like extras from Outlander the dress code is relaxed, the only rule being flattish shoes for women, but even this can be ignored.

But the fact is that school tuition of country dancing was always hit and miss, depending on the enthusiasm of individual teachers.

Putting dancing on the school curriculum would end that particular lottery, and ensure that all pupils were able – and hopefully enthusiastic – about taking part in this particular traditional Scottish custom. They might even have some fun doing so.