Wales politics

George Osborne: We intervened in Tata Port Talbot closure

Port Talbot plant Image copyright Reuters

The UK government has intervened in the "overnight" closure of Port Talbot steelworks, George Osborne has said.

The chancellor claims its actions have given "breathing space", but would not say what he meant by intervention.

It follows Tuesday's announcement that Tata Steel is selling its entire loss-making UK business, with more than 4,000 jobs at Port Talbot at risk.

But the Indian firm has not given an "open ended" commitment to keep plants open during the sale.

The UK government has faced criticism that it has not helped the industry enough.

But Mr Osborne said the UK government is taking action to cut energy prices and to ensure British steel is used in British construction.

"Faced with a collapse of the world steel price, we were facing a situation where Port Talbot could have closed overnight," he said.

"We have intervened, with Tata Steel, to make sure that the plant doesn't close overnight, to give us breathing space and find new long-term owners for the site."

The steel industry across Europe has suffered from a excess of supply and falling steel prices with imports from China. Tata itself had lost £2bn in the UK over five years.

Tata's Port Talbot plant is the biggest in the UK and is said to be losing £1m a day.

The company has other Welsh plants at Trostre, Shotton, Llanwern and Newport, while UK plants in Rotherham and Corby are also affected.

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Media captionVaughan Roderick on the impact the Tata announcement is likely to have on the assembly elections

Earlier on Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron held an emergency meeting and said the government is "doing everything it can" but warned there were "no guarantees of success".

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns did not clarify whether nationalisation was being ruled out when interviewed on BBC Radio Wales on Thursday.

Asked if it was still on the table, he said: "Nothing is being ruled out. But we want a long-term solution for Port Talbot. And we don't think nationalisation is the solution to that."

Money on table

First Minister Carwyn Jones said the Welsh Government would be willing to "put money on the table" to help find a new buyer for Tata Steel's UK business.

It is understood a package of support from Cardiff that had been available to support Tata through the crisis is still available to support another firm that may come forward.

Mr Jones told Channel 4 News: "We're not talking about setting up a nationalised company here, as it was in the old days, but taking the industry on in order to allow time for a new buyer to come forward.

"The UK government has the resource to do this. We'll put money on the table, but we don't have the resource on our own to do it."

Earlier Mr Jones called for Tata to allow months for the sale of the business, rather than weeks.

'Ideological'

Plaid Cymru economy spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth accused Mr Cameron of ruling out nationalisation for "ideological reasons", said his government was in "disarray" while the Labour Welsh Government had "no plan" either.

Kirsty Williams, Welsh Liberal Democrat leader, said she was disappointed with Mr Cameron's comments and added: "Without any form of part nationalisation, I fear we could be putting the Welsh steel industry under unnecessary strain at a time when everything must go smoothly."

Mark Reckless of UKIP Wales said: "I find it difficult to see how we'll have a sustainable future for the steel industry until we get energy prices down and proper tariffs on Chinese dumping. We can't do either of those in the EU."

But former Labour Welsh Secretary Lord Peter Hain said: "It is simply not accurate to say our steel industry would be better off outside Europe when the European Commission has a record 37 anti-dumping measures in place, with 16 of those are specifically targeting Chinese imports."

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