With the UK’s third largest steel producer close to collapse, Boris Johnson has told parliament it would be “crazy” for the government not to use its newfound Brexit flexibility to buy British. It has been almost two years since the steel industry, together with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, set out a charter to bolster the use of UK steel. The charter claims UK producers could supply the energy industry, rail upgrades and construction with steel worth up to £3.8bn a year by 2030.
For some major infrastructure projects UK steel producers are not able to make the particular type of material required. But government data shows even when the product is made in Britain, projects often do not use as much domestic steel as they could.
Below are the latest figures, for the 2018-19 financial year, for a range of government funded projects from submarines to schools. They show the total amount of steel procured, and how much of it was from UK producers.
Britain’s four new dreadnought-class submarines will be built by BAE Systems by 2030 using UK steel “where capability, capacity and cost allow”, according to the company. The project required more than £3m worth of specialist steel sourced from France in 2018-19. But much of the steel needed is actually being produced in France. For one contract worth £3.6m, nothing was sourced from UK producers. An £890,000 contract was fulfilled by UK steel suppliers, but the government data does not say whether the steel was produced in the UK.
Total value of procured steel: £7.7m
Value of UK steel used: no answer
Project: Network Rail
Network Rail is one of the biggest users of steel, most of which is sourced from UK producers. The demand for steel for long and short rail topped £68m in the 2018-19 financial year and all but £4m came from UK producers, according to the data.
Total value of procured steel: £68.35m
Value of UK steel used: £64.4m
Project: Sellafield nuclear decommissioning
The UK’s nuclear waste facility uses carbon steel and stainless steel to construct the facility that will store and process the radioactive materials retrieved from various legacy ponds and silos around the Sellafield site. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which oversees the site, spent £5.3m on steel in the 2018-19, of which just over £1m was spent on UK produced steel.
Total value of procured steel: £5.3m
Value of UK steel used: £1m
Project: education and skills
The government’s school building programme requires rolled steel, flat steel, reinforcement and structural steel. The data shows that very little of the material used is British. For one contract worth nearly £500,000, all of the steel could have come from the UK but only 52% did.
Total value of procured steel: £8.3m
Value of UK steel used: £1.25m