The UK government has ruled out nationalising the steel industry to tackle the threat of thousands of job losses after the Prime Minister admitted there were no guarantees of resolving the current crisis.
David Cameron chaired a brief meeting of ministers in Downing Street to discuss the shock decision by Indian conglomerate Tata to sell its UK assets, including the giant steelworks at Port Talbot in South Wales.
Tata’s two mothballed Scottish plants, Dalzell and Clydebridge in Lanarkshire, were bought last week by metals firm Liberty House after the Scottish Government formed a taskforce to save them.
The leader of the Community union accused UK ministers of not doing enough to lobby Tata before it made its decision.
A Labour petition calling for Parliament to be recalled has passed the 100,000 mark in just one day, with a new signature every second.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid was not at yesterday’s meeting as he was travelling back from Australia after cutting short a business trip because of the unfolding crisis. He was facing calls to quit last night after it emerged he took his teenage daughter on the visit.
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, whose Aberavon seat includes the Port Talbot plant, said: “Given the magnitude of what was happening and the fact it appears that he was not even in Australia for entirely work-related reasons, he should consider his position.”
Mr Cameron said the government was “doing everything it can” to resolve the steel crisis, but nationalisation was not the right answer.
He said the situation in Port Talbot was of “deep concern” but there were “no guarantees of success”.
Mr Cameron defended the way the crisis had been handled, insisting the intervention had stopped an outright closure. He said: “The government will do everything it can, working with the company to try and secure the future of steelmaking in Port Talbot and across our country. It’s a vital industry. We are not ruling anything out. I don’t believe nationalisation is the right answer.”
He said about half of British steel goes to other EU countries. He added: “We need to be in there making sure the markets are open. If we were on the outside, we might well find that it was our steel that was having those tariffs and those taxes put upon it.”
Roy Rickhuss, leader of the Community union, said: “I am disappointed the government still has no plan but instead seems to be adding to the confusion and mixed messages that have been the state of play for the last 36 hours.
“The Prime Minister had the gall to state that his intervention with Tata was responsible for securing a ‘sales process’ but the sad truth is that ministers didn’t join us in Mumbai and the government was nowhere to be seen.”
James Kelly, Scottish Labour candidate for Rutherglen and a member of the Scottish steel task force, said: “David Cameron’s Tory government seems content to stand aside whilst the steel industry across the UK faces collapse.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with the Community union’s efforts and fully support Jeremy Corbyn’s petition asking for Parliament to be recalled.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The fact we have seen progress towards protecting the jobs at Scotland’s remaining steel plants is welcome, but that will not lessen the fears of the workers in Port Talbot who face losing their jobs.
“We need the UK government to step up to ensure any gap between Tata’s ownership of the plant and a future buyer is breached.”