Workers at the country’s biggest steel plant demanded answers from the Business Secretary yesterday when they confronted him about the crisis gripping their industry.
Sajid Javid made a flying visit to Port Talbot in South Wales after cutting short a trip to Australia to deal with a shock decision by Tata to sell its loss-making UK assets.
As he left a meeting inside the plant, a group of banner-waving steelworkers asked him what the government was doing to save the industry.
He said the government was on their side, adding that steel was “absolutely vital” to the UK’s industrial sector.
Asked if there were any potential buyers, he said it would be wrong for commercial reasons to name anyone expressing interest, but said: “There will most certainly be people.”
He said the government would work with Tata, the Welsh Government and the unions.
“We are on your side. The time is there, meetings today have been constructive, but also with Tata management in India, they have been very responsible, they’ve shown in the past as a group they are a responsible company, they’ve had to sell things in the past, I take confidence from that and so should you.”
Mr Javid said in media interviews that the government has received confidential information from Tata about its UK assets and is now engaged on trying to find a buyer.
“We have worked really hard with Tata for a long time, making sure we can find a new buyer. Information we got from Tata is confidential.”
Mr Javid maintained the government had been leading efforts in the European Union to impose tariffs on cheap Chinese steel, one of the issues blamed for the current crisis. It has emerged that China has imposed anti-dumping duties on “under-priced” steel from the European Union, Japan and South Korea.
The government was attacked for not taking emergency action months ago to head off the jobs crisis now gripping the steel industry.
Trade group UK Steel said it set out six months ago what needed to be done in the short term – but it has not happened.
Director Gareth Stace said: “For more than 15 years we have been telling successive governments that a raft of ill- thought policies were body blows to the UK steel sector.
“Added together they have significantly put us in the sorry position we find ourselves in today. A situation far worse than what was envisaged after the closure of the Redcar site six months ago.”