A series of parliamentary questions have revealed that the Department for Transport (DfT) is failing to ensure that the HS2 rail project is using steel produced in the UK.

Alarming lack of action

The lack of proactive government action has alarmed Unite, the UKs leading union, which represents thousands of steel workers. It has also led to growing uncertainty about the long-term wellbeing of the UK steel industry.

HS2 is the largest construction project in Europe and will therefore need millions of tonnes of steel to be built. Despite this and the fact that having left the European Union, it is far easier for the government to ensure that British products are used in infrastructure projects, it is failing to do so. This was revealed recently in a series of parliamentary questions tabled by Labour MP Mick Whitley (See editorial note below). 

Clear targets needed

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 governments procurement policies will be challenged by my union. You could not make it up.”

This is a particularly critical time for the UK steel industry with order books not being full and the rising energy costs in danger of making UK steel uneconomic to produce.

Foundation industry

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 governments inaction. It brings into question yet again whether the government is really serious about levelling up or if it is simply a soundbite.”


Notes to editors:

The HS2 steel controversy was revealed through a series of parliamentary questions initiated by Labour MP Mick Whitley. His initial question was: To ask the secretary of state for transport, whether his department has targets for the use of UK steel on the HS2 projects throughout the projects lifetime.”

The answer was that the DfT has failed to set any such target the reply by junior transport minister Andrew Stephenson MP said: There is no formal target for the use of UK steel on HS2." 

A further question by Mr Whitley further highlighted the DfTs hands off attitude to HS2 purchasing UK steel. he also asked: What proportion of steel used in the construction of HS2 was produced in the UK as of 30 November 2021.”

Mr Stephenson failed to answer the question and instead said: HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport are committed to working with the UK steel industry to ensure it is engaged, informed and prepared to seize the contract opportunities that will be generated by HS2.”

The DfTs answers tally with the concerns that UK steel producers have raised with Unite, they believe that there is little or no effective effort being made to ensure that the contractors who are engaged to build HS2, purchase UK steel for the project.

This is resulting in much of the steel in the project being bought from overseas suppliers.

Shortly before Christmas Unite raised its concerns about the lack of UK produced steel going into HS2, directly with the junior business minister Lee Rowley MP, without receiving a satisfactory response.

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Unite is the UK and Irelands leading union fighting to protect and advance jobs, pay and conditions for members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.