The Unite union is demanding the government sets clear targets for the use of UK-produced steel in the HS2 rail project, after it emerged that the Department for Transport currently has none in place.
Responding to two written questions in parliament posted by Labour MPs in December, the transport minister Andrew Stephenson admitted there is “no formal target” for the use of UK steel in its construction.
Despite cuts to the original plan, HS2 is still a major part of the UK’s £96bn integrated rail plan and will be the largest building project in Europe, requiring millions of tonnes of steel to build the tracks, stations and tunnels.
Unite said the UK’s exit from the European Union should have made it easier for the government to ensure that British products were used in infrastructure projects. More than 33,000 people are employed in 1,100 steel businesses across the UK.
Questions over HS2’s sourcing came in October after it emerged that the French firm Sendin had supplied the project with more than 2,000 tonnes of steel. At the time HS2 said its contractor had approached all suitable alternative UK suppliers, but none could provide the necessary product in time. HS2 said 97% of all businesses the project has worked with throughout its supply chains were British.
“The government must immediately develop clear targets on UK steel usage on publicly funded construction projects,” said the Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham.
“In the case of HS2, UK producers should have a paramount place in producing steel for the project. Surely that is economic common sense? This failure of the government’s procurement policies will be challenged by my union. You could not make it up,” Graham said.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “HS2 is a once in a generation investment in the UK’s transport infrastructure and we expect it to have a lasting impact on jobs, skills and businesses here in the UK.
“The government and HS2 Ltd have engaged extensively with the British steel industry over the last five years to ensure that it is in the best possible position to compete for contracts.”
Last week, it was revealed that the UK steel industry was braced for an immediate slump in trade after the EU and the US reached an agreement to remove tariffs on a quota of steel and aluminium imported from the bloc to the US from 1 January.
Tariffs will remain on all UK steel and aluminium exports after the UK government talks failed to secure a matching breakthrough.