Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Ministers to discuss steel crisis but no recall of Parliament over jobs threat

Published 30/03/2016

Tata Steel's board concluded that a plan aimed at saving plants including Port Talbot in South Wales was unaffordable
Tata Steel's board concluded that a plan aimed at saving plants including Port Talbot in South Wales was unaffordable

The Government has been criticised for refusing to recall Parliament to discuss the steel crisis amid fears that thousands of jobs could be axed.

Ministers have also signalled opposition to nationalising the industry while efforts are made to find a buyer for Tata Steel plants.

The Indian conglomerate shocked unions by deciding to sell its loss making UK business, threatening huge job losses.

The Government turned down calls from the Labour Party to recall Parliament but announced that the Prime Minister will chair a meeting of ministers on Thursday morning in Downing Street.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid cut short a business trip to Australia and spoke to the chairman of Tata Group.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also cut short a holiday and travelled to Port Talbot, site of the country's biggest steel plant.

He wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to hold a special session of Parliament.

The Welsh Assembly is being recalled next week to debate the future of the industry.

A spokesman for 10 Downing Street said: "Ministers will continue to hold briefings to update representatives of other parties on the situation but we have no plans to recall Parliament. Our focus is on finding a long-term sustainable future for steel making at Port Talbot and across the UK."

Mr Javid said the UK steel industry was "absolutely vital for the country", adding: "I'm deeply concerned about the situation. I think it's absolutely clear that the UK steel industry is absolutely vital for the country and we will look at all viable options to keep steel making continuing in Port Talbot.

"We are also very much alive to the human cost and we want to make sure no worker is left behind so where workers are affected that we are doing everything we possibly can to help them and their families."

But he said he did not think nationalisation was "the solution" to the crisis.

"At this stage, given the announcement from Tata has just come out, it's important I think we talk to them properly and understand the exact situation and we look at all viable options," he said.

"I don't think nationalisation is going to be the solution because I think everyone would want a long-term viable solution.

"And if you look around Europe and elsewhere I think nationalisation is rarely the answer, particularly if you take into account the big challenges the industry faces."

A spokesman for the Community union said it was "extremely worrying" that Business Minister Anna Soubry stressed this morning the Government was looking at all options to retain steel, but within hours it had ruled out nationalisation.

"We are also concerned that the Government does not regard the steel crisis as of sufficient priority to recall Parliament.

" That would not have been a disproportionate response given the thousands of jobs affected and wider strategic impact on the UK economy."

Mr Javid had faced criticism from union officials and opposition MPs for not travelling to Mumbai to lobby the board of Tata.

He was in Australia on a business trip and was due to speak at an invite-only meeting of business leaders in Sydney, but will now return to the UK earlier than planned.

Mr Corbyn said the news that Tata was preparing to sell its UK assets puts "thousands or jobs" and "a strategic UK-wide industry" at risk, in his letter to the Prime Minister.

"Steelworkers and their families will be desperately worried about the uncertainty. The Government is in disarray over what action to take. Ministers must act now to protect the steel industry, which is at the heart of manufacturing in Britain and vital to its future," he wrote.

Around 40,000 jobs could be lost if no buyer is found for Tata Steel's UK business, according to analysis by the IPPR think tank.

It said the firm's UK business employs 15,000 people, with a further 25,000 jobs in the supply chain estimated to depend on steel plants.

Supply chain job losses are also likely to hit manufacturers and suppliers of iron, manufacturers of machinery, and processors and suppliers of coke and petroleum, some of which will be based outside of the UK, it was found.

The Government has called on Tata to give enough time for buyers to be found for its UK business in a bid to save thousands of jobs.

Ms Soubry said: "We want enough time to be able to secure a buyer. That will take months."

Workers at Port Talbot appeared shocked by the news as they clocked on following last night's announcement in Mumbai.

Unite union secretary and steelworker Mark Turner, who has worked at the plant for 11 years, said: "We were really surprised by the announcement because the one thing that the company told us that would not happen is that they would put us up for sale."

He added: "Everything is up in the air. All options are on the table: closure still has not been taken away."

Speaking in Port Talbot, Mr Corbyn called on the Government to "intervene" and ensure British-made steel is used to build infrastructure in the country.

He said: "We are saving an industry that will provide the basis of all the goods that we all need.

"What is made in Port Talbot, ends up in everything we use. It ends up in every can of drink we get, tin can, every food we eat from a can, and many, many other things come from that.

"The railways of this country are made from steel in this country.

"So the last point I would make is this, we also need a government that is prepared to intervene and say that there should be strategic procurement of steel from steelworks in Britain for the railways, the bridges, the buildings, and all the other things that we are constructing in this country."

Dave Hulse, from the GMB union, said: "David Cameron should be ashamed of himself for ruling out a recall of Parliament.

"He makes out that the Government cares about working people but this clearly confirms that holidays are more important than the members we represent and the communities that they come from.

"Sajid Javid says he does not think that nationalisation is the answer. If he is committed to doing the right thing then he has to rethink and listen to everyone connected with the steel industry or our steel manufacturing base will be lost forever."

Community's general secretary, Roy Rickhuss said: "Seeing confusion and mixed messages from ministers will only increase the worry of steelworkers across the UK.

"The fact that one minute they are saying they are looking at all the options and the next they're saying some form of nationalisation is not a solution shows a government divided and without the political will to take the tough action necessary to save our industry.

"We don't want Sajid Javid rushing back from Australia to repeat the mistakes he and his colleagues made over Redcar. It is also too soon to be talking about measures to mitigate job losses. People still have jobs now and the Government should be focused on ensuring that their employment and steel making continues. Rather than the Prime Minister sitting down with his ministers, perhaps he should heed our call to meet me and I can help set him and his Government back on the right path.

"Steelworkers need a government that will protect their jobs and ensure a long term future for British steel making.

"It's disappointing the Prime Minister doesn't see this issue as a sufficient priority to recall Parliament and give MPs from worried steel communities across the UK the opportunity to debate the issue and hold the Government to account."

In a telephone call to discuss the situation, Mr Cameron and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones agreed to do " everything possible" to secure the future of steel making at Port Talbot and elsewhere in the UK.

"The PM and First Minister pledged to work to support a sales process that delivers a sustainable long term future for the plant. They also agreed to remain in close contact in the days ahead at both official and ministerial level," a No 10 spokesman said.

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph