Labour has called on ministers to provide clarity on the future of Liberty Steel’s UK plants amid fears thousands of jobs could be lost if the firm goes under.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng refused to rule out the prospect the business could be taken into public ownership, saying “all options are on the table”.
However, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the firm’s 5,000 workers urgently needed an answer to the basic question “What’s going to happen to me and my job in Liberty Steel?”
Mr Kwarteng confirmed ministers had turned down a request by Liberty’s parent company, the GFG Alliance, for a £170 million bailout.
The company turned to the Government for support following the collapse of its main financial backer, Greensill Capital.
However, Mr Kwarteng said they had been concerned the “very opaque structure” of GFG – with assets around the world – meant there was no guarantee the money would stay in the UK to support British jobs.
He nevertheless stressed the Government considered Liberty to be a “really important national asset” and was looking at plans to ensure the business in the UK was able to continue.
“We’re looking at all plans at the moment and you will appreciate that it’s commercially very sensitive,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“I think that the current owner is looking at ways of refinancing the group and I’ve been very clear that I want to see his plans worked through before we actually go into anything in terms of a further plan to keep the jobs and the plant safe.”
Asked about the prospect of it being taken into public ownership, he said: “All options at the moment are on the table, we think that the steel industry has a future in the UK.”
Mr Kwarteng, meanwhile, defended the role of David Cameron in lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital before it filed for insolvency.
Labour has been pressing for an inquiry amid reports the former prime minister had used his contacts to personally lobby Chancellor Rishi Sunak for support for Greensill through the Government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility.
Mr Kwarteng insisted that Mr Cameron – who became an adviser to the company after leaving office – had done “absolutely nothing wrong”.
The Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists concluded Mr Cameron was an employee of Greensill and so was not required to declare himself on the register of consultant lobbyists.
“I think people have looked at this. As far as I know David Cameron did absolutely nothing wrong, he was a public servant for a long time, he’s now gone into private life and was working for Greensill Capital,” he told Sky News.
“People have looked into his role, people looked into the fact that he may or may not have contacted people, officials, in the Treasury.
“As far as I know, everything was above board. He’s been largely exonerated and I think we should just move on.”
Labour has called on the Committee for Standards in Public Life to conduct an inquiry.
Its chairman, former MI5 director general Lord Evans of Weardale, said it has no remit to investigate individual cases – although he indicated it could look at any wider issues it raised.
However, speaking during a by-election campaign visit to Hartlepool, Sir Keir said it was clear that some form of inquiry was necessary.
“What’s happening with Greensill gets murkier by the day. And I think it’s obvious that there’s got to be an inquiry, there are too many unanswered questions,” he said.
“We need a Government that steps up and gives answers to those that are not only concerned about the murky nature of what’s going on, but also want to have the basic question answered, what’s going to happen to me and my job in Liberty Steel.”