UK Politics

Steel crisis: Government could take on Port Talbot debts - Sajid Javid

Tata Steel works in Port Talbot, South Wales Image copyright PA
Image caption Tata Steel UK employs 15,000 people and has several operations in England and Wales

Potential government "co-investment" with a private buyer in Port Talbot steel works could involve taking on some of its debts, Sajid Javid said.

The business secretary also hinted ministers would bring forward details of UK steel use in defence projects.

Mr Javid told MPs he was fighting for Britain's steelworkers "every hour of the day" to resolve the crisis facing the struggling industry.

But Labour said the government's response had been "wanting".

The exchanges came during a three-hour emergency debate on the crisis facing the UK's steel industry.

The debate was granted by the Commons Speaker after a request from Labour, which complained the government had refused to recall Parliament from its Easter break to discuss the issue.

Tata Steel has begun the formal process of selling its loss-making UK plants, putting thousands of jobs at risk. However, a buyer has been found for its Scunthorpe plant.

The future of the larger Port Talbot is still in doubt, although at least one potential buyer has expressed an interest.

The government has resisted calls from unions and opposition politicians to nationalise the Port Talbot plant, Britain's biggest steelworks.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid told the Commons on Monday the government was working hard to find a private sector buyer for Port Talbot, with "the possibility of co-investing with a buyer on commercial terms" under consideration.

As MPs debated the crisis on Tuesday, Mr Javid faced calls to clarify exactly what "co-investment" in the plant would mean.

Image copyright HoC

He told them: "The key point is that any co-investment would have to be on commercial terms, investment can take a variety of forms, for example it could be debt.

"But again it's a demonstration of all the options the government is looking at."

SNP employment spokesman Neil Gray accused the government of a lack of clarity over the option, saying it was "uncoordinated and shambolic".

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The business secretary also told MPs to expect more details "in the coming days" on the use of UK steel in Ministry of Defence (MoD) projects.

Labour's shadow business secretary Angela Eagle said the coalition government axed Labour's defence industrial strategy which she said ensured gave priority to British industries when MoD contracts were awarded.

"We now have the deeply regrettable situation of an aircraft carrier, British surface ships and armoured vehicles all being manufactured in the UK with mainly imported steel, when, with more planning, our domestic industry could have supplied these needs," she added.

Image copyright HoC
Image caption Ms Eagle said accused ministers of an "ideologically-driven reluctance to get involved" in the crisis

Meanwhile, Labour MP Stephen Kinnock - whose Aberavon constituency is home to the Port Talbot plant - criticised the government's whole approach to the steel crisis which he said had been characterised by a "dangerous combination of indifference, incompetence and rolling out the red carpet for Beijing".

But Mr Javid told MPs: "The crisis the steel industry faces is global, but I am fighting for Britain's steelworkers every hour of the day.

"I was fighting for them long before this crisis hit the headlines and I will go on fighting as long as it takes, because Britain's steelworkers are the best in the world and they deserve no less."

Tata's Long Products Europe business, which includes the Scunthorpe plant, was sold to investment firm Greybull Capital for a token £1 or €1. The move will safeguard 4,400 UK jobs, but workers are being asked to accept a pay cut and less generous pension arrangements.

The business will be rebranded as British Steel once the deal is completed in eight weeks, the company said.

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