THE flickering flame of Teesside’s steel industry will only fully re-ignite and recover from an “act of vandalism” through strong Government and industrial collaboration, a top union today (Thursday, February 8) warned.

Roy Rickhuss called on ministers, unions and companies to unite and preserve the region’s steel heritage.

Speaking in Redcar, Mr Rickhuss, Community union’s general secretary, said a new national strategy will be crucial in sustaining the industry and restoring pride to a region still bearing the scars of Redcar steelmaker SSI UK’s collapse in 2015, which left thousands unemployed.

Mr Rickhuss received support from Business Minister Richard Harrington, who said “it is the Government’s job to take action to help support the sector”.

Mr Harrington also echoed the need for collaboration in any new blueprint, saying support for research and development must be matched by companies’ willingness to invest in skills and technologies to create fresh market niches.

Addressing audience members at a Community steel and wire sector conference, held at Redcar and Cleveland College, Mr Rickhuss said it was imperative swift action is taken to “deliver the industry our parents and grandparents built, as a modern and prosperous inheritance for our children and grandchildren”.

Beginning by referring to SSI UK’s liquidation, helped in part by spiralling operating costs and the impact of cheaper imports, Mr Rickhuss said: “Steel made here helped build the world, from Sydney Harbour Bridge to the railways in India.

“But the works did more than that; they built the town and its people, the steel men and women who worked hard to provide for their families.

“The steel industry is the beating heart of towns like Redcar and the closure of SSI and cost to the community was nothing short of industrial vandalism.

“Failure of industrial leadership let the light go out.”

Teesside’s steel sector has begun to move on from SSI UK’s demise with many workers finding new employment, while British Steel and Liberty House Group are also striving to reinvigorate Tata Steel’s former Long Products division and sections of the Indian conglomerate’s Hartlepool pipe mills, respectively.

However, Mr Rickhuss said the industry remains at a crossroads, with Britain’s impending EU divorce an increasing issue on the horizon.

He added: “Half of all the steel produced in the UK is exported and 70 per cent of this goes to the EU.

“The post-Brexit trade relationship with Europe and the Customs Bill could have huge consequences.

“We simply cannot afford for the Government to get these wrong and we need it to stand up to countries like China on keeping their promises over steel dumping.

"UK steel producers are still paying over 50 per cent more for their electricity than companies in France and Germany.

“If post-Brexit Britain is to be a nation of makers and innovators, we can’t operate at such a long-term disadvantage.”

The conference also heard from Middlesbrough-born Business Secretary Greg Clark, who, speaking via videolink, said he was determined to see the former SSI UK works transformed to provide “good quality jobs and careers for people in the area”.

Highlighting future partnerships with industry, and work already done by operators, such as an increased focus on lucrative automotive products, Mr Harrington said he was committed to seeing the steel sector thrive.

“It has been a rocky road over the last few years and I’m sure it will change again”, said the minister, who grew up in the steel city of Sheffield.

“But it’s our job to take action to help support the steel industry and my door is open for people who want to talk.

"The future of the country depends on steel.”