UK 'doing everything it can' to help steel industry: Cameron

31st March 2016, Comments 0 comments

Britain is "doing everything it can" to help the country's stricken steel industry following Tata Steel's decision to put its British business up for sale, Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday.

Following a crisis meeting with ministers, Cameron said the threat of thousands of job losses was "a very difficult situation" but dismissed calls for the renationalisation of the industry.

"We are not ruling anything out," he said. "But I don't believe nationalisation is the right answer."

Indian steel giant Tata employs around 15,000 staff in Britain, including at the country's biggest steel plant at Port Talbot in south Wales.

The Port Talbot plant is Wales's biggest single employer and thousands of other jobs in the area depend on it.

However, it is reportedly losing £1 million (1.3 million euros, $1.4 million) a day in the face of plunging prices caused by a chronic global oversupply of steel and a significant increase of cheaper imports, particularly from China.

"The situation at Port Talbot is of deep concern. Those jobs are vital to workers' families, vital to those communities," said Cameron.

"The government will do everything it can working with the company to try and secure the future of steelmaking in Port Talbot and across our country, it's a vital industry," he added.

"During this process, we are committed to working with the Welsh gov't and Tata on a long term sustainable future," he later tweeted.

Metal processing company Liberty House said they were potentially interested in some of Tata's British assets, according to a Sky News report.

However, Liberty House's president Sanjeev Gupta dampened enthusiasm by saying that making a success of Port Talbot and another steel plant at Scunthorpe in eastern England would represent a "huge challenge."

The company suggested it was more interested in its processing plants rather than production facilities like Port Talbot.

The government has come under fire over its response to the announcement, with Labour MP Stephen Kinnock accusing it of being in "total disarray."

"We need an urgent plan of direct assistance to Tata Steel while it finds a buyer," he said Thursday.

- Latest blow for UK industry -

Cameron said that the government's action had "guaranteed that there is a sale process" and that Britain was just one of many countries struggling with low steel prices caused by "massive over-capacity".

Business Secretary Sajid Javid was due to visit Port Talbot later Thursday having cut short a trade visit to Australia.

Finance minister George Osborne also tweeted that he had raised the issue with other finance ministers during G20 talks in Paris.

Over 100,000 people have backed an online petition launched by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn demanding the return of parliament from its Easter holiday, although MPs cannot consider the petition until they return from their break.

Another calling for the steel industry to be renationalised has received more than 8,000 signatures, but a full government takeover of the industry is outlawed under European Union rules.

The country's left-wing media also put Cameron under pressure, with tabloid the Daily Mirror splashing "Betrayed" across its front-page, along with a picture of a steelworker, and the Guardian running with the headline "Ministers in disarray over steel industry".

The current woes of the country's steel sector is the latest saga in the demise of Britain's heavy industry that has ravaged traditionally working class regions in Scotland, Wales and the north of England.

Len McCluskey, head of the Unite union, called on Cameron to take "personal responsibility" for the crisis, warning that it threatened the country's entire manufacturing base.

But analysts said the chances of anyone rescuing Tata's British operations were "very slim".

"Tata has taken a £2.0-billion hit on its UK arm in the past five years and any buyer for the entire business would need to be both an eternal optimist and have very deep pockets," said Russ Mould, investment director at broker AJ Bell.

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© 2016 AFP

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