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Teesside Labour MPs urge ministers to support Materials Catapult

Teesside Labour MPs have united in the House of Commons following this week’s Budget announcement to urge the Government to create a Materials Catapult that will support productivity and innovation improvement in the British steel and materials industry.

Andy McDonald and Alex Cunningham both implored ministers to consider the proposals, which could spur much needed inward investment and regeneration in the Teesside economy. Anna Turley also pressed the issue today in the SSI Taskforce as a key means by which steel can continue to be at the heart of Teesside’s economy.

Catapult Centres grew out of the Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK) set up by the last Labour government to encourage business investment in technology and innovation. The Materials Catapult is a joint proposal from the Materials Processing Institute headquartered in Redcar, TWI which would draw on its facility in Middlesbrough, and the nationwide Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3). It would focus on early stage research into steel, alloys and metals including titanium and aluminium, as well as ceramics, plastics and other materials – research not currently included in the Catapult Network.

Raising the ongoing issues in the local steel sector and criticising the lack of Government action by raising the plight of Metrabrasive Ltd which is facing closure, Alex said:

“As recently as last week, 40 highly skilled workers at a specialist steel foundry in Stillington in my constituency were told that their jobs would go in May. What did the Budget offer such firms? Simply nothing.”

The Stockton North MP also emphasised that, despite hints from the Business Secretary earlier in the week that a decision on the proposed catapult would be forthcoming, the Budget contained nothing from the one man who could have made it happen.

Criticising the Chancellor for ignoring Britain’s industrial base and extolling the significant merits of the proposal, Andy said:

“The Materials Catapult is being demanded by industry nationally and could be delivered immediately. It would give some credibility to the much-vaunted but singularly absent ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

“The catapult would improve productivity in the materials sector, strengthen manufacturing supply chains and drive growth by supporting new and growing technology-based small and medium-sized enterprises. It would improve international competitiveness by addressing the UK’s relative disadvantage in materials innovation.”

The Middlesbrough MP went on to urge the Business Secretary not to block the proposal, advocating the significant research and employment opportunities the catapult would bring and the huge economic contribution such a project would make to Teesside’s economy.

Anna Turley wrote to the Minister for Small Business back in January, pressing the case for the catapult. Recently in the chamber, she said:

“I will continue to press the Minister for the establishment of a Materials Catapult for research and innovation on Teesside that focuses on the early stage of metals development. We have the perfect opportunity with the existing research and development hub that is the Materials Processing Industry. The Government has a chance here to put right some of its wrongs and to help some kind of steel phoenix to rise from the ashes in Teesside.

“Teesside can build on its industrial strength and once more play a vital role in driving the UK’s industrial and high-tech economy of the future. But we need a government that will support us. We need a government that will commit to an industrial strategy. We need a government that will, dare I say it, invest.”

The CBI, FSB and UK Steel, as well as leading universities and firms, have all indicated their support for the proposals and universities have expressed concerns around the need for greater development and upscaling of fundamental research. The 2013 Tees Valley City Deal also included a request for the creation of such an innovation and commercialisation hub.

All these factors make a compelling case that Teesside MPs have pursued in parliament and will no doubt attract the attention of Anna Soubry, the Small Business Minister, when she visits Middlesbrough on Monday.