London – The British government says public sector construction projects will be encouraged to use U.K.-made steel, a move designed to shore up an industry in crisis.
The government said Sunday that the new rules will “create a level playing field” and help British steelmakers compete with international rivals.
The steel industry in Britain, as in many developed economies, has been hit hard by cheap Chinese imports, which have depressed prices.
The British crisis became acute in March when India’s Tata Steel announced plans to sell its loss-making U.K. plants, which employ almost 20,000 people. A sale or restructuring would likely involve heavy job losses, and some analysts say it may be hard to find a buyer for Tata’s British operations, which are losing 1 million pounds ($1.4 million) a day.
Others have said Tata may have little interest in finding a new buyer for British plants that would become rivals to its operations elsewhere.
The government is expanding a requirement, introduced last year, that public bodies consider issues such as sourcing, carbon footprint and health and safety, as well as cost, when choosing a steel supplier. It previously applied to central government contracts but will now extend to local government, the National Health Service and other public bodies.
Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock said that “from operating theatres to new buildings, public sector buyers will need to consider social and economic benefits, alongside value for money.”
The opposition Labour Party said the move was welcome, but overdue. Opposition politicians and unions accuse the government of failing to stand up to China, and are urging the U.K. and European Union to impose anti-dumping duties on imported steel.
On Friday, China imposed its own anti-dumping duties on steel from the European Union, Japan and South Korea.