On the UK Steel Industry

I admit it – I am not an expert in the economics of steel manufacturing, but I have listened to and read the various analyses of the decline in our steel industry (alongside various other heavy manufacturing industries, such as ship-building) with confusion.

Ex-steel workers demonstrating the Arsenal off-side trap


My first question is – is the UK steel industry actually in decline?

This may seem perverse, given that the media has been full in recent weeks of news about plant closures and job losses.  As ever, statistics can be used to prove just about anything.  We are told that employment in the UK steel sector has fallen by 90% since the 1970s.

On the other hand, the International Steel Statistics Bureau say that production is actually growing from a low in 2011, and that, while imports increased dramatically in 2014, the overall trend is steady over the past 5 years, while the UK has had a positive balance of trade in this commodity in 5 of the last 8 years.

The executive summary of this report (admittedly a year old) states that the market is expected to return to “sustained growth”, while intense competition “remains a concern”.

Also, a February 2015 market report by IBISWorld supports the suggestion that there was a downturn due to the global collapse in 2008, but that a recovering global and UK economy has given the industry a positive outlook.  It suggests that even during the difficult period (the 5 years to 2014) the industry is expected to record compound annual growth of 0.9%!

So – is the industry in decline, has it merely suffered a blip (alongside almost every other market sector), or is it simply becoming less reliant on labour (as are most manufacturers)?  I don’t know.

Accepting that, at the very least, employment in the UK steel industry is in decline, the question then becomes:


What’s to be done about it?

We are told that the closure of various steel plants in recent years is down to:

  • high energy costs (especially when compared to competitor countries, principally China);
  • unfair competition from abroad (principally China);
  • a strong pound (particularly against the Euro and the Yuen);
  • weak demand for steel;
  • low prices for steel (driven down by weak demand and “unfair” competition from, principally China);
  • the cost of climate change policies (which are enforced more stringently here than in competitor countries, principally China); and
  • EU competition law which restricts the ways in which industries can be propped up by governments (unlike in competitor countries, principally China).

Frankly, I don’t know enough to say which of these factors is more important than any of the others.  The problem is, most analysis stops there.  Nobody seems to address the question – what can be done about any of this?

The UK is a relatively small player in a) the steel market, in which China produces almost as much steel as the rest of the World combined and b) the energy market, which is dominated by the OPEC countries and the US.  Currently, the pressure is for more environmental levies, not fewer, and (at least until next year’s referendum) there is no getting out of the EU competition laws.  As for the strong pound, well that is generally thought to be a Good Thing and is trumpeted as a sign of a strong economy, so no government is going to lose sleep about that.

The simple fact is, the British steel industry was at its peak when we produced loads of coal and when the British Empire gave us the power to control matters like commodity prices and cheap access to raw materials.  We are now a fairly minor player in a world where the cost of transporting steel from the far East isn’t so prohibitive as to outweigh its otherwise cheap price.

In other words, times have changed.*

For me, the challenge is not to “save” the industry, but to adjust to its decline.


Now unemployment is never fun (believe me, I know) and as the Mirror article linked at the top states, job losses in one industry have a knock-on effect in others.  This effect is especially hard hitting in places where a large proportion of the workforce is concentrated in one industry (or even one plant) and they all lose their jobs at the same time.

There are towns, villages and whole areas still struggling to recover from the closure of coal mines in the 1980s (Thatcher – booooooo!), so I do not seek to belittle the terrible effect that drastic shifts in employment patterns can have.

What is beholden on the current government is to learn the lessons of coal.

There are now said to be around 20,000 people employed in the UK steel industry.  20,000 is a lot of people – and people are more than simply numbers – but they only represent 0.05% of the UK working population.

If I were the opposition leader, I would be asking Cameron and Osborne not “where is your strategy to protect these jobs”, but “where is your strategy for helping the thousands who have recently lost their jobs, and what will you do to ensure that their skills and communities are not left to rot as were the miners’?”

Speak soon.

Labenal (@GoonerEll)

* Please note – I am not arguing that Britain is no longer “Great” etc.  We are just far stronger and bigger players in other areas now.  It’s pointless pretending we’re still the industrial giant we were 100-200 years ago.

On Theo Walcott

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Ever since Thierry Henry went on his hols to Spain, Arsenal fans have been crying out for the club to sign a World Class Striker.

Arguably, we haven’t had an out-and-out goalscorer since Ian Wright, and if we ever had a goal hanger like Shearer, Lineker or the equine master of the art, van Nistelrooy, you have to go back at least 30 years (Stapleton, SuperMac maybe?).

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Any excuse to use this pic is a good excuse!

Van Persie clearly had the quality, but injuries and skunkery meant we only had one full season of him at his peak to enjoy.

I will fast forward past the motley crew of players who have led the line since RvP’s departure (yes, Nicklas, even you) to look at the current crop.

I am a fan of Olivier Giroud. His record (61 goals in 110 appearances, plus 35 sub appearances) stands up against almost anyone’s in the Premier League. In addition to his goals, he holds the ball up well and has made something of a speciality of those flicks to put in an on-rushing midfielder. He is involved in every goal scored when he’s on the pitch, and he’s a big asset defensively too.

To me, Giroud is clearly a very good striker, but I don’t think anyone would say he is World Class.

It’s really too early to make any judgment about Danny Welbeck at Arsenal. It’s a real shame he’s picked up the injury that’s prevented him playing this season – but I think we can say that, however exciting his potential, he is not World Class yet.

This brings us on to the man who is the focus of this post, namely Theo Walcott. He has famously insisted that, despite the fact he’s played on the right wing for most of his career to date, he is a centre forward, and he has been given the chance to prove it since coming back from this injury.

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There is plenty of historical precedent for a fast, slightly-built striker. Michael Owen is an obvious example, and Theo is bound to have more shooting options from the centre of the pitch than when running in from the right, where his extreme right-footedness makes the angles even tighter.

However I think it’s fair to say that it’s taken him a little time to adjust to the demands of the role.


Like most of the team, he had a sluggish start to this season. But his recent form (7 goals, 3 assists in his last 9 appearances for club and country – during which he only played an average of 60 minutes) means he must surely now be taken seriously as a central striker.

In particular, I enjoyed the goal he scored on Friday night against Estonia. He timed his run perfectly, controlled the ball and finished without fuss. OK, the defending could have been better, but that’s not his fault.

It was a clear demonstration of his improvement since last season, when he was caught offside far too often and missed too many of the chances with which he was presented – particularly when he had time to think.

The pundits after the game clearly felt that Rooney, Kane and Sturridge are still ahead of Theo in the England pecking order, but frankly who cares what Glenn Hoddle thinks?

I have also noticed that he is coming across far more confidently in post-match interviews lately. I know you don’t win matches there, but it is indicative of a man who has found his mojo and developed from a timid, temperamental youngster into a senior player and leader. You can see the steely determination in his eyes, or is it the steel wool on his chin?

In any event, practically everyone feels Theo is ahead of Giroud in the pecking order that counts, even if he is not yet World Class, so the question is … is he the striker that can lead a team to the Premier League title?

Assuming they can stay fit (which is a dangerous thing to do with any Arsenal player!) Walcott, backed up by Giroud and (eventually) Welbeck really should be good enough – especially when we have such a strong array of talent behind. It is not unreasonable to think that Ramsey, Cazorla, Özil, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere, Rosicky and, of course, Alexis will bang in enough to fill the gap left by the absence of a 30-goal striker.

Right now, there’s only one striker in the Premier League who I would swap for Theo – Aguero, obviously. So, Gooners, we may not have Lewandowski, Mueller or Benzema, but let’s get behind the boys we have, and cheer them on to a glorious 14th league title.

For the record, my prediction is that Theo scores a perfect hat-trick to seal the title at the City of Manchester Stadium.

Speak soon

Labenal (@GoonerEll)

On The Company of Strangers

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I learned a new lesson this evening and I learned it well.

The past few days have not been good ones for me. Just as many non-Jews with “complicated” lives find the forced jollity and heightened expectations of the Xmas and New Year holiday period to be tortuous, I have found the just-ended festival of Succoth and Simchat Torah to be a hard and lonely time.

I have good friends who care deeply for me. I know this and am grateful for it. I could have reached out to them to help me through the turmoil of the past few days.

I could, at least, have allowed them to reach out to me. I apologise to those who tried. It’s honestly nothing personal.

But I didn’t. Instead I withdrew into a shell, cut off the world and focused on distracting myself with mindless TV.

Tonight, however, I came to a realisation – that sometimes, the company of friends and those with intimate knowledge of me and my circumstances is not as helpful as that of strangers.


I went on Twitter. I had a conversation in bursts of 140 characters with a group of folks with whom I have the weakest of connections – we all support Arsenal Football Club.

I have never met any of them in person, merely spoken to them on Twitter and on a Web cast (join in next time – it’s worth a listen)!

Yet a bit of crude sexual innuendo (some of it a long way from subtle) was enough to lift my mood from a pretty deep hole.

This is not the first time this has happened. This summer, I went to see the ever-wonderful Kylie (and Chic, Grace Jones and Mika) perform at the British Summer Time festival in Hyde Park. I went alone, but shared a wonderful afternoon with a group of people whose only connection was a willingness to stand up for 7 hours to enjoy some great music from some consummate (and in Grace Jones’ case, totally stoned) performers.

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Every time I go to watch Arsenal play, I share the experience with around 59,000 strangers, a few dozen people in the ground I know at least vaguely, not to mention the many millions following the game from around the world.

These events are joyous to me (yes, even when Arsenal lose) because I can unashamedly share my passions in a completely uninhibited way with no consequences.

I don’t have to explain myself, I don’t have to worry about what I say because nobody cares about any of that and nobody will remember me the next day (except perhaps as that odd, fat, loud bloke with the bad jokes).

What a joy that is.


So, please allow me to share two personal messages.

  1. Sorry (no – I really mean it) to the individuals who have tried to help and who I have turned away in the last day or two. I love you none the less, and there will be times your attention will be very welcome, but there are times it isn’t.
  2. Thank you (sincerely) to
    1. those 3 women who went to KFC after Kylie,
    2. the many thousands who have sung songs and talked crap in the Tolly and the streets around Ashburton Grove and
    3. to @garethcmurray, @MrsCharlieGolf and @Johnny_Buttons

You are all great.

Speak soon

Labenal (@GoonerEll)