This week we enjoyed a few days away in The Lakes where the weather was glorious and perfect for exploring the outdoors. The girls are yet to get to an age where they can appreciate the beauty of things and generally have to bribed with an ice-cream in order for them to walk from A to B. However, with a little ‘gentle’ persuasion we did complete a couple of lovely walks to Askham Hall and Aira Force. I have always loved The Lakes and holidayed there annually with my family when growing up. I’ve climbed most of the highest peaks there but have yet to tackle Scafell Pike. One day I’m going to fulfil that particular challenge! So far, the girls, in particular Honor, do not seem to have inherited the hiking gene. I suspect she may be more like her Aunty Maddy, opting to enjoy a picnic and a plodge (mackem term for a paddle) in the nearest stream! Monica is more willing to walk so perhaps in the future it’ll be her and I scaling the peaks while Honor and Paul visit the local pub.
The closure of SSI is still very much in the media spotlight. I follow certain pages on Facebook and Twitter interested in hearing how people are getting on with their search for work. The pages are also a good source of information for training opportunities and job vacancies. However, I have been disappointed in some of the comments people have made with regard to SSI workers. People have written that the ex-steelworker’s should be thankful to the government for the help they have received. I think this is where people are missing the point. I can only speak for myself (and Paul) but we were accepting of the fact that he was going to lose his job. SSI were in millions of pounds worth of debt and any business owing that much money is not going to survive. For that we were prepared. When we heard the site was to be mothballed we still had a glimmer of hope that, in the future, steel making would return to Redcar. It was when the news broke that SSI was to be liquidated that things began to take on a different hue. From that point we knew Paul would not receive the redundancy package he was entitled to and would have to claim for any monies owed. The company had ceased to exist and therefore had relinquished any responsibilities it might have had towards it’s employees. At this point the government were not to blame. They could not keep afloat a company haemorrhaging money and they also promised to put in to place an £80m support package. That sum appeared reasonable and gave the worker’s hope that they would be suitably retrained and supported to help them find work as soon as possible.
Five weeks have now elapsed since the fateful day Paul heard the words ‘it’s game over lads’. He has, thus far, recieved the sum of £1700. He is in the assessment process for a couple of jobs but, as yet, has no concrete offer of employment. We have asked on several occasions, ‘how can we access the training fund?’. Anna Turley, MP for Redcar, has asked the question to David Cameron in parliament. We know that the redundancies have been paid out of this money but there must be £50m still left in the pot that belongs to the workers. Nobody seems to be able to answer this question. If we were able to secure funding for Paul to retrain then that is what he would like to do most of all. He can see a future in having his own business and having only himself to rely upon rather than work under the worry that this could happen again.
The government has let down the workers in a number of ways. They did not allow time for a buyer to be found. Offers were made but the government declined them all. We do not know why. The steel plant has been left in a state that would make it virtually impossible to start up again. I doubt that I am alone in fully understanding how a steel plant should be shut down, but I have learned a few things from Paul recently. The blast furnace was switched off. The coke ovens that produced the heat needed for turning the iron ore into steel were abandoned. Once the heat is withdrawn the coke ovens begin collapsing in on themselves and for steel making to return new coke ovens would need building. Once the fires burn out there is little chance of a buyer coming forward as it would be too costly to rebuild. The blast furnace was continuously heated by the coke ovens to around 1500 degrees. The iron ore becomes molten metal and runs out of a tap hole at the bottom of the furnace. From there it is purified and cooled in to steel slabs. Previously when the blast was turned off in 2010 the molten metal was drained from the furnace using a slamander tap. This time the molten metal has been left in the furnace. Therefore it will continue to solidify as there is no heat anymore. In order to reignite the blast a huge clean up operation would be needed at the cost of millions of pounds. It is difficult for anyone who has not been in to the steel plant to understand the scale of the operation. The place is huge! I hope that I have explained a little, perhaps, of why allowing the coke ovens to cool was sounding the death knell for steel making at Redcar.
This is why I, and others, are angry with the government. They could have mothballed the site and given the area just a little bit of hope that the industry hadn’t burned out all together. I am also frustrated with the government for not making itself clear as to how to access funding and what the funding can be used for. To wave a figure of £80m around seems great and the general public are thinking that the steelworker’s are being well looked after. This is not true. The government are making it very difficult to access and are not communicating with us at all on the matter.
This week Jeremy Corbyn made a visit to Scunthorpe. He spoke to the people affected by the closure of the steelworks. He showed he was bothered. It makes a mockery of the industry and the steelworker’s themselves that our Prime Minister cannot visit the areas affected and see for himself how damaging this closure is for the region and it’s economy. I was also appalled at the photograph showing how many conservative ministers were present for the steel debate in parliament – a handful. It just tells me that they are not bothered about the industry but most of all they are not bothered about the workers and their families. I do not feel the government are worthy of my thanks and gratitude because so far they have not helped us. Other than the redundancy payments the workers have received, the government have shown no respect and no interest in us. They appear to be more concerned with finding ways to make money through cutting tax credits and privatising the NHS. This government is not supporting the ordinary, hardworking people. It is abandoning us. For those saying we should have savings that we can fall back on. We do. However, these savings were not supposed to cover periods of unemployment, they were supposed to be buying us a home capable of accommodating a family of four.
There have been a few negative comments but in the main the public have been very supportive and we are extremely grateful for that. We have received offers of financial help from complete strangers and have been humbled by their generosity. We are not, yet, in a position where we need to accept help from others. However, it has highlighted to me the number of wonderful, caring and generous individuals who are out there willing to help complete strangers. In a time of great uncertainty for us you have shown great selflessness and your kind words have given us strength – thank you.
So ultimately I do not feel indebted to our government or prepared to thank them. There are industries that have received governmental assistance in the past but this time the steel industry has been overlooked, thought of as not worthy; that is how it seems to me. Perhaps if the government were prepared to speak to those affected then we might better understand their reasons for pulling the plug on the industry. We can only surmise that they believe the country is better off without it and that they do not care about the impact the loss of Redcar steelworks will have. Maybe they don’t understand it’s importance in the infrastructure of our empire. Maybe they would understand more if they listened, spoke to and acknowledged their own people.