DEPUTY Prime Minister Nick Clegg hailed the Teesside Cast Products takeover as a “global deal based on local passion” during a visit to the region yesterday.
On a whistle-stop tour of the Redcar site, the Liberal Democrat leader said the deal was a major vote of confidence in local workers, North-east industry and UK manufacturing.
After months of speculation, Thai firm SSI finally announced last week it was buying TCP as part of a historic $1bn investment in Teesside steel-making. The deal, which will be rubber-stamped this month, is the successful culmination of a year-long fight to revive a 150-year local tradition on Teesside after the blast furnace in Redcar was mothballed in February, 2010.
Mr Clegg praised the willingness of business leaders, politicians and local workers who made the deal possible and said the Government would “do all it could” to support SSI in its drive to expand its Teesside operation.
He said: “I just think it’s fantastic news. It’s a sign of confidence in Redcar, Teesside and the UK as a whole.
“It’s a breath of fresh air at a time of difficult news about the British economy.”
He said the SSI deal represented a re-balancing of the economy towards manufacturing and away from financial services - a sector which came to the brink of collapse during the recession.
“For too long our economy has been run according to the interests of a particular sector - the financial services sector.
“We need to support investors such as SSI to create jobs in other sectors in other parts of the country - not just the South-east, not just in financial services.
“We as a Government are very clear: Britain is open for business.
“We are a great manufacturing nation. For too long we have been too shy about celebrating our manufacturing successes.”
Britain’s manufacturers suffered a torrid recession in which plant closures and job losses were commonplace.
Teesside was hit particularly hard, with Dow Chemicals, Croda and Invista Textiles all shutting down key manufacturing operations on the Wilton International site.
Following Tata’s decision to mothball TCP and intense lobbying by industry, the former Labour Government came up with a £60m fund to support Teesside’s process sector.
But the new coalition regime axed the fund with £18m still to be committed for investment.
Mr Clegg warned there would be no cash hand-outs on the table and said industry would have to stand on its own two feet.
“It’s certainly not the role of Government to sign a blank cheque,” he said.
“We are not allowed as a Government to write blank cheques.”
Redcar MP Ian Swales said the Government would seek to help manufacturers in other ways - particularly by ensuring they were not penalised financially under the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme.
Under the scheme, which only affects firms operating in the EU, a company’s right to emit carbon is capped. If they exceed their allowance, they must buy carbon certificates to cover the excess and pay a penalty on top.
Companies are concerned the scheme will put them at a trading disadvantage to foreign rivals, who are unrestricted by the heavy emissions laws.