Tensions flare as north Northants Tories vote against motion to support UK steel campaign

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One councillor voted down the motion stating that that China, Brazil, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Africa, and Norway produce better quality steel than we have here

Tensions flared at last night’s meeting calling on North Northamptonshire Council (NNC) to support the UK steel campaign.

A motion was voted down by the ruling Conservative group, with one councillor saying that steel produced in other countries is better.

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Cllr John McGhee (Lab) put the motion forward, which he said was not a political issue and called on the council to support it.

Last night's full council meetingLast night's full council meeting
Last night's full council meeting

The motion urged NNC to ask the leader of the council to write to the Prime Minister asking that Parliament support our local people and the economy by supporting the campaign to save UK steel by supporting five points – expanding steelmaking ability by at least double, tackling energy prices, changing procurement rules to ensure UK public contracts use 100 per cent UK steel, taking a public stake in our steel industry and public investment of £12bn.

But a number of Conservative councillors spoke to voice their unwillingness to support the motion.

Council leader Cllr Jason Smithers (Con) said he could not support the motion because of the wording and that it was ‘clearly party political’. He also described the motion as ‘quite frankly ludicrous’.

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Cllr Andy Mercer (Con) called the motion a ‘not very sensible’ and ‘a very naive approach’. He did also say that he really likes the idea of trying to support British Steel and really likes the idea of trying to support Corby but was unable to support the motion.

Cllr Jonathan Ekins (Con) said that China, Brazil, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Africa and Norway all produce better quality steel than what’s being produced in the UK.

He said: “We can’t produce the quality at the right prices here. If we could, we would, but it goes to prove that Brazil has the best quality iron ore in the world and that's why we import this ore.

“The ore makes the steel, so if we can’t afford to do it, we import it. We’re not digging the ore from this country, we’re buying it in, so what is the difference, if you can buy steel ready made cheaper than what you can dig it out and create it here, it makes sense, it makes fiscal sense.”

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Cllr Lora Lawman (Con) questioned whether investment would stay in the UK and could also not support the motion.

A number of councillors from across the room supported the motion including Cllr Emily Fedorowycz, leader of the Green alliance, who described it as a ‘fantastic idea’ and said it was a shame that it was ‘immediately politicised’ and ‘shot down for no real good reason’.

Independent councillor Martin Griffiths queried why, if Cllr Mercer liked part of the motion, then an amendment could not be proposed.

With his closing remarks, Cllr McGhee strongly expressed his disappointment with the council.

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He said: “He [Cllr Jason Smithers] doesn’t want to work with any of us, he just wants to work with us when we’ll agree with him, that’s what it’s all about. From now on that won’t be happening with me, that’s for sure.

“We are sick and tired of you [the Conservative councillors] playing the political game. This came forward not as a political statement, but trying to get people to work together and what do you lot do? You turn it down, you don’t grasp it.

“You don’t deserve to be there, you’re there to support the local residents, local economy, local jobs and you’ve failed again. The devastation of the steel industry has come under your party anyway, so it doesn’t really surprise me.

“I’m ashamed of you, I’m ashamed sometimes to sit in here because all you do is play political parties on a straight forward motion. That’s not a way to do politics and work together, it’s about working together for the sake of the residents in this county.

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“20-odd years I’ve been doing this and I’ve never seen that sort of attitude to a simple motion to support local workers and local economies.”

The vote was recorded in which 14 voted for the motion, 38 against and there were two abstentions. No Conservative councillors voted for it.

You can watch last night’s debate on this topic on NNC’s YouTube channel.

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