David Cameron must be prepared to take a public stake in the steel industry in order to protect the jobs and pensions of workers in the crisis-hit sector, Jeremy Corbyn has said.
The Labour leader said the government had an “ideological allergy” to nationalisation, but Tata Steel’s decision to sell its UK plants, including the massive Port Talbot works in Wales, meant taxpayers’ cash may be needed.
He also warned that cheap Chinese steel dumped on European markets would not last forever and the UK must take action to preserve its own manufacturing base.
Mr Corbyn said he was not convinced the industry was safe, because ministers “were not absolutely on the case” as decisions about its future were taken in Mumbai, India, with no UK government minister being involved.
He said: “They [ministers] seem to be unclear about the role the government could take in this.
“We have to guarantee the industry, we have to guarantee the jobs and the pensions. We have to be prepared to take a public stake in it to guarantee that, because we all need the steel industry in Britain.”
Mr Corbyn offered to support Mr Cameron in ensuring any deal to protect the industry was approved in Brussels, but insisted that trade union representatives must be involved in talks on the future of the plants.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid was to travel to Mumbai last night to meet the chairman of Tata as efforts to save thousands of jobs are stepped up.
He is to hold talks with Cyrus Mistry to discuss details of the sales process for the firm’s UK steel operations.
Mr Javid was in Australia when the announcement was made a week ago, leading to union claims that he had “taken his eye off the ball”. Yesterday he attended a meeting in Downing Street with Prime Minister David Cameron and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones, before holding talks with union leaders.
Leaving Downing Street, Mr Jones, who leads the Labour party in Wales, said the meetings had been productive.
Asked if the government should consider nationalising Tata’s UK steel plants, Mr Jones said that he “wouldn’t use the word ‘nationalisation’”.
He added: “What we want to do here is to keep our options open, to make sure that there is time for a sufficient buyer to come forward.”