The appalling destruction of Britain’s steel industry with the loss of 4000 jobs -a fifth of the workforce in just one month- has been bad enough.
Ministers have accepted that there appears to be little they can do against the Chinese dumping of steel – and that the steel industry will have to slim down to meet the drop in world wide demand. The trouble is that this decision will mean that it will be Britain that will be getting rid of its industry while governments in the rest of the world decided to keep their steelworks.
But if that was not appalling enough what has happened to a new generation of apprentice steel workers – hoping for a new career in manufacturing. They have been thrown on the scrapheap with other workers -just like the mineworkers..
So it is extraordinary as I reported in Tribune last week that Martin Donnelly, the permanent secretary at the department for business,innovation and skills, proposed that apprentices should sacked on the spot and unlike other workers receive no more pay or even redundancy.
In a letter to his political boss, Sajid Javid,the business secretary, Mr Donnelly said the cost – some £1.7m of taxpayer’s money – was not justified in Redcar where the steel works closed.
Quoting Treasury rules he wrote: “The required appraisal process concludes that this would not offer value for money even after taking into account the very real economic challenges facing apprentices in the Tees Valley at this time.
“It is the case that apprenticeship training offers a value for money investment… I am also concerned that spending at this level would be repercussive, and might create an unhelpful precedent.”
In this case Sajid overruled him saying “I have to weigh that assessment against the broader objectives of government; including our commitments to localism, and our aim to build confidence in apprenticeships.
“Furthermore, the apprentices of Teesside face a very extreme situation and one which, in my judgement, requires an exceptional and urgent public sector response that is equivalent to the scale of the challenge.”
This struck me as a very mean view for a mandarin to take – and obviously he was worried it would create similar requests in Scunthorpe, the Midlands and Scotland where other jobs have now been lost.
But it is certainly harsh just to cut off money to apprentices – and the minister was right to overrule him.