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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called on ministers to end their “squabbling” and step in to support the steel industry amid fears surging gas prices could force plants to close.
Speaking during a visit to a steel mill in Sheffield, Sir Keir said it would be “unforgivable” if a short-term spike in energy prices led to long-term job losses.
“We can’t allow that short-term problem to lead to job losses. That would be completely wrong,” he said.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng submitted proposals to the Treasury earlier this week for a loan scheme to help energy-intensive industries like steel cope with the global spike in energy costs.
The move came after the Treasury had previously denied there were any discussions with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the issue.
There has so far been no formal response from Chancellor Rishi Sunak, and industry leaders – who have yet to see details of the plan – warned it may amount to no more than a “flimsy sticking plaster”.
Sir Keir – who was visiting the Outokumpu stainless steel plant – said ministers had gone “missing in action” and called on the Government to provide the industry with the support it needed.
“What the steel sector needs is support and action from the Government. What we have got is a Government that is missing in action,” he said.
“It is not having discussions that it should be with the sector. It is not doing what is necessary to save the jobs that are at risk. They have put the ‘out of office’ sign up. That is not acceptable.
“So stop squabbling, get back to work and talk to the sector about the support that is needed for jobs.
“If we have short-term energy prices leading to long-term job losses that is unforgivable by the Government.”
Sir Keir said that the Government’s inaction on steel reflected a wider failure to get to grips with the supply chain problems afflicting the economy.
He said ministers should have drawn up plans months ago to deal with the labour shortages that had been widely predicted.
“We have seen it with fuel drivers, we have seen it with delivery drivers and with abattoirs and other sectors. All of these shortages were predicted,” he said.
“People will look at pictures of Felixstowe which has got containers that are unable to move and scratch their heads and say ‘Why is there not a plan to get us through this?’.
“At the moment the Government is sitting back and saying this is somebody else’s problem.”