Sajid Javid to meet Port Talbot steelworkers amid heavy criticism


Sajid Javid will meet steelworkers in Port Talbot to insist the Government is "on their side" following intense criticism of his response to the crisis in the industry.

The Cabinet minister cut short an official visit to Sydney to return to the UK following the shock decision by Indian conglomerate Tata to sell its UK assets, including the giant plant in South Wales.

The Business Secretary, who faced calls to consider his position after it emerged he had taken his daughter on the Australian trip, insisted the Government was "working hard" to find a long-term solution for Port Talbot and the wider steel industry.

But trade union Community said steelworkers would be "shocked" at how long it has taken the Government to respond to the crisis, branding ministers' actions so far "inadequate".

The Government promised that all possible ministerial, official and diplomatic influence will be exerted to secure the industry's future, but David Cameron has insisted nationalisation is not the right answer.

Mr Javid will meet workers and management at Port Talbot on Friday, along with members of the Welsh Government and trade unions.

He will be accompanied by Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns and will promise that independent advisers will be appointed by the Government once Tata begins the formal sales process.

Mr Javid said: "I'm going to Port Talbot to meet staff and management, who are understandably extremely anxious about their future.

"I will listen to them, and I want to reassure them myself that the Government is on their side in working hard to achieve a long term solution for them, for the region and for the wider UK steel industry.

"Whilst we can't change the status of the global steel market, we can and are playing a positive role in securing a sustainable future."

He will promise a cross-Whitehall response, working with Treasury minister Lord O'Neill, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Letwin and Mr Cairns, as well as the Welsh Government, to find a buyer for Tata Steel's assets.

But he will also defend ministers' actions so far, insisting that without the Government's intervention steelworkers in Port Talbot could have been faced with the immediate closure of the plant rather than it being put up for sale.

A spokesman for Community said: "Steelworkers across the country will be shocked that it has taken this long for the Government to finally wake up to the crisis facing our steel industry.

"Community, the steelworkers' union, has always been keen to work constructively with government, but Sajid Javid cannot simply arrive at Port Talbot and read out his list of 'achievements' - this week's news is proof that government action thus far has been woefully inadequate.

"The Government must commit to safeguarding the skills and assets of Britain's steel industry. The UK simply cannot afford to lose our steel making capacity."

Ministers have faced allegations they prioritised closer trading links with China, which has been blamed for dumping cheap steel on European markets, over UK industry.

Ex-deputy prime minister Nick Clegg blamed his former cabinet colleague George Osborne for the policy.

"George Osborne has put his special relationship with China above the UK's best interests," the former Liberal Democrat leader said.

"The Conservative Government have continually failed to take action and missed many opportunities to help the UK steel industry, such as taking steps to prevent dumping of cheap Chinese steel on the UK market.

"The Government must now act before more steel jobs across the UK are put at risk."

Meanwhile, more than 125,000 people have signed a petition started by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn calling for the Prime Minister to "take immediate action to act to protect the steel industry and the core of manufacturing in Britain".

Downing Street has rejected the Labour leader's demand for Parliament to be recalled to debate the crisis.