Government under pressure over plans for UK steel industry


The Government is coming under increasing pressure to reveal its plans to help save jobs in the crisis-hit steel industry and explain how it will "co-invest" in the business.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid faced a barrage of questions during a three-hour emergency debate in the Commons, with Labour pressing him to be more "upfront".

Indian conglomerate Tata has launched a formal process for selling its loss-making UK assets, including the giant plant at Port Talbot in South Wales.

Business minister Anna Soubry told the Welsh Affairs Committee she had received emails and a text from firms expressing "very serious expressions of interest" in buying Tata's UK sites.

Mr Javid hinted that the Government was set to announce moves to include more British steel in defence projects.

He told the Commons that defence procurement minister Philip Dunne could make an announcement "in the coming days" on Ministry of Defence (MoD) acquisition of British steel.

Potential Government "co-investment" with a commercial buyer in Port Talbot could involve taking on some of the business's debts, Mr Javid added.

MPs and unions have been pressing the Government to explain what it means by co-investing after the term was used by Mr Javid on Monday.

Labour MP Stephen Kinnock asked Ms Soubry for more detail, saying it would be helpful to send a message to potential buyers which gave more "clarity" about what it meant.

The minister replied: "We are looking at all options. These things are so commercially sensitive, it would be wrong to go into detail. The most important thing is to find a buyer. We want a responsible buyer, with a view to giving a sustainable long-term future."

Shadow business secretary Angela Eagle said: "Today was Sajid Javid's big chance to set out a comprehensive plan to save the steel industry. I'm afraid it must go down as yet another missed opportunity.

"We called for clarity on what the Secretary of State means by 'co-investment' and demanded a commitment to secure the future of the blast furnaces. We called for a modern and intelligent industrial policy, we called for reassurances for the customer base, and, most importantly, we called for action on Chinese dumping. The Secretary of State failed to deliver on each and every issue.

"We've had enough warm words from the Tory Government. We need to see some concrete action."

SNP employment spokesman Neil Gray described the Government's lack of clarity over the "co-investment" option as "unco-ordinated and shambolic".

Tata has confirmed that its UK steel business as a whole is losing £1 million a day, and for the last year has been making "significant" losses.

Mr Javid gave senior ministers an update on the Government's efforts to support the steel industry at the regular weekly meeting of Cabinet in 10 Downing Street.

Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokeswoman said there was no detailed discussion during the meeting about what "co-investment" in businesses might involve.