In the debate over British steel, don’t forget the human cost


The government must learn the lessons of the collapse of MG Rover.

By Richard Burden

First published in the New Statesman, March 31, 2016

Today, Lewis Goodall is a successful TV journalist. I first met him when he was a pupil at Turves Green Boys School in my Birmingham Northfield constituency, well over a decade ago. He tweeted this week about how the situation facing steelworkers in Port Talbot stirred memories of what his Dad went through when the Longbridge car plant was under threat. Lewis’ words will strike a chord with so many former Rover workers and their families. In fact they strike a chord with all of us who live and work in South Birmingham and beyond.

There are, of course, big differences in the circumstances surrounding Port Talbot in 2016 and those which faced Longbridge when the car plant here was threatened with closure in 2000 and when MG Rover finally went under in 2005. There was no automotive equivalent then of the collapse in steel prices we see today or of the “dumping” of Chinese steel on the global market. The long term background to what happened at Longbridge said a lot about the way much of the United Kingdom’s own motor industry had been allowed to decline in the late twentieth century. The precise events in 2000 and 2005 were however, specific to Longbridge itself and to the decisions its different owners either made or failed to make at the time.

Now is not the time to go over all that again. But this is the time to talk about some of the parallels between Longbridge and Port Talbot and steel. First, as Lewis Goodall’s tweet exemplifies, let us not forget this is about people. Car-making at Longbridge and steel at Port Talbot and elsewhere are not simply about the economies of those areas. They are about their heritage; about community identity and the prospects for the next generation. A focus on building community resilience was a vital part of the response to the collapse of MG Rover in Birmingham. It was only partially successful here – particularly once the immediate crisis had passed – and we are still living with the consequences of that. It will be no less important in Port Talbot.

Read the full article here.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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