UK Politics

Steel crisis: Unions to urge ministers to support plan

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Media captionMcCluskey: PM must show leadership on steel

Unions are to urge ministers to agree a plan aimed at saving thousands of steel jobs after a day of emergency meetings.

The proposals were drawn up after talks with Tata Steel, which plans to sell its UK plants.

Unions called on David Cameron to intervene to prevent the closure of Tata's Port Talbot plant, accusing Business Secretary Sajid Javid of "taking his eye off the ball".

Government sources said Mr Javid was in "full control" of the situation.

The business department he leads is in "full crisis mode", they added.

On Twitter, Mr Javid said he had held a "productive" meeting with Tata executives, adding: "Progress is being made."

Tata Steel announced last week it was selling its loss-making UK businesses and would close its plant at Port Talbot unless a buyer was found.

The company directly employs 15,000 workers in the UK and supports thousands of others, across plants in Port Talbot, Rotherham, Corby and Shotton.

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Image copyright Reuters

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Ministers said they were optimistic that a buyer would be found for the whole business.

One potential buyer told the BBC he could take over all of the business without mass job losses.

Sanjeev Gupta, the head of the Liberty Group, said he had "very encouraging" talks with the UK government so far, but there was still a lot of work to do.

Mr Javid will travel to Mumbai on Tuesday to meet Tata chairman Cyrus Mistry for discussions about the sales process.

Beforehand he is due to meet union representatives, when he will be urged to back their plan for the future of the Tata sites.

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Media captionWelsh First Minister Carwyn Jones says the assembly stands "shoulder to shoulder" with steel communities

It involves securing the customer base by guaranteeing production at Tata sites, not allowing Tata or other buyers to "cherry pick" parts of the business, and offering government support for two to three years while the industry gets "back to self-sustainability".

Speaking at the union talks in London, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey told the BBC Tata had expressed a desire to complete the sale "speedily", adding: "That's not really good enough if they want to be a responsible company."

He said Tata was "under some pressure from ourselves to do the right thing, not to just rush away in a matter of weeks" and called on the government to "put a protective arm around the industry".

Pensions liabilities

BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith said a pension fund covering 140,000 steel workers looked set to be "critical" to any sale.

A source involved with the Liberty House talks said the company and other potential buyers would regard taking on Tata's pension liabilities as "too big an ask".

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Media captionSajid Javid: "I will do everything I can to keep this plant open"

Mr Javid, under pressure over his handling of the crisis, signalled on Sunday that ministers were working on plans to take on some of the pension liabilities and to reduce energy costs to make a purchase more attractive to investors.

But Norman Smith said there was concern that a government move to cover workers' pensions could flout EU state aid rules.

'Deeply troubling'

Unions say they wrote to Mr Cameron last week seeking a meeting and have not received a reply - but Downing Street said no correspondence had been received.

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Image caption Workers are seeking answers from government as to whether UK steel making has a future

Roy Rickhuss, leader of the Community union, said: "By now, no-one underestimates the scale of the challenge we face. We have an entire industry to save and not a lot of time to save it.

"We must also ensure that we hold Tata to a commitment to be a responsible seller and honour its moral and social duties to UK steel communities."

Speaking on a visit to Tata's plant in Rotherham, Business Minister Anna Soubry said the government "will talk to anybody who has a genuine reputation and is genuinely interested" in the company's UK interests.

She said the government would do everything possible to secure the future of the industry in the UK.

Business rates

Tata Steel has said there is "no fixed timeline" for the sale process but stressed that urgency is needed to avoid "a long period of uncertainty" for employees and customers.

Labour says the government should be prepared to take the Port Talbot plant - which Tata says is losing £1m a day - into public ownership to safeguard its future until a buyer can be found.

It also wants major projects involving large amounts of steel to be fast-tracked.

Shadow business secretary Angela Eagle said the future of British steel-making was "hanging in the balance" and accused the government of being "still missing in action".

Meanwhile Wales' First Minister Carwyn Jones faced questions from assembly members over the steel crisis in a hastily reconvened meeting. He is expected to hold talks with Mr Cameron in Downing Street on Tuesday.

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