The climate emergency and sustainability are still high on most people’s agenda and rightly so. And while some choose to focus on carbon emissions alone, sustainability is not just about the carbon emissions associated with material manufacture, but should also encompass the wider requirements of the economy and societal needs. If we are to develop an industry that can deliver net-zero carbon steel by 2050 the industry needs to be viable, successful and maintain the in-house expertise to put in place new technologies. So, it is a matter of balancing the climate emergency whilst maintaining a successful UK steelmaking industry.
Our UK steelmaking industry is the envy of the world. The quality of the steel is some of the best and is produced by companies that have a high corporate level of social responsibility compared with others around the world. This industry deserves our support through the transition to net-zero carbon.
The UK constructional steelwork industry is also amongst the best in the world and has long been a leader on sustainability. BCSA’s Sustainability Charter, which was the first Charter of its type, was introduced in 2005. It recognises the wider aspects of sustainability and covers, a number of policies, namely: environmental; health and safety; personnel training and development; equal opportunities; ethical trading and management of energy and vehicle fuel usage. The Charter also includes how the companies are supporting their local communities. The benefits of BCSA’s Sustainability Charter are now being recognised by the wider construction industry and several clients require steelwork contractors to sign up to the Charter while others require them to be ‘Silver’ or ‘Gold’ members of the Charter.
In recent months BCSA has been campaigning for High Speed Two (HS2) to adopt a minimum UK content target for its supply chain. I am pleased to say that this is beginning to gain support from both members of Parliament and members of the House of Lords. The UK constructional steelwork industry has the capability and the capacity to supply all the steel structures required by HS2 at competitive prices. Not only will HS2 get a good job but taxpayers’ money will be used to support the UK economy through the pandemic and help to ‘Level-up’ our economy. Sadly though, a large proportion of the first tranche of contracts for structural steel has been awarded to European contractors.
Not only has the UK industry lost out, but HMG and the wider UK economy has also lost out on the following revenue: corporation tax and VAT from the supplier companies; personal income tax from their employees; similar losses from companies and employees further down the supply chain; local business rates; spending in local shops and businesses by employees of the suppliers together with further consequential loss of tax revenue; participation in government initiatives such as apprenticeship training and support for initiatives such as preventing climate change.
It’s time that HMG and HS2 recognised the advantages of employing UK companies and developed procurement guidelines that take account of these benefits.
Despite all the changes that the pandemic, BREXIT, climate emergency and the wider construction industry is throwing at the steel construction sector the one thing that I’m confident about is the resilience of the BCSA steelwork fraternity. I don’t know of many casualties resulting from the lockdown and I’m confident we’ll cope with BREXIT as well.