Starmer urges Government to ‘come out of hiding’ to support crisis-hit industry

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called on the Government to “come out of hiding” and help energy-intensive industries facing the possibility of having to shut down production due to high gas prices.

Opposition leader Sir Keir said it was “crucial we get a grip on the energy crisis” ahead of a visit to steel manufacturer Outokumpu Stainless Ltd on Thursday.

The Labour leader’s challenge comes after industry leaders in energy-intensive sectors warned that current Government support plans may be no more than a “flimsy sticking plaster”.

Manufacturers which require a lot of energy to produce their goods, such as steel and chemical makers, have previously warned that soaring gas prices may mean they have to shut down plants for periods this winter.

Sir Keir said: “Labour have been calling on the Government to come out of hiding and work with energy-intensive industries, rather than finding a scapegoat for the problem.

“They should be convening task forces on a sector-by-sector basis to assess need in each sector, and devising bespoke solutions.

“But instead they’ve put their out of office on. Whilst other countries step up and act, the UK is staggeringly complacently sitting back.”

The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, on Wednesday advised the 27 member states to adopt measures such as tax cuts and state aid to help households and businesses weather the impact of high energy prices.

Sir Keir also said: “Our energy-intensive industries like steel are the cornerstone of British manufacturing and crucial for our economic recovery.

“Our steel industry is not simply a proud industry of our past but – with Labour’s £3 billion, 10-year commitment to make British steel green – a proud industry of our future.

“It’s crucial we get a grip on the energy crisis. With millions already feeling the pinch as energy prices rise, and businesses and jobs at huge risk, we should be supporting industry to stop this escalating into a winter crisis.”

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves pledged that a Labour government would be “collaborative, working alongside businesses, workers, industry bodies and unions to pull together in a national endeavour”.

Energy prices
A general view taken by drone of the British Steel Ltd steelworks in Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire (Danny Lawson/PA)

On Tuesday, UK Steel director general Gareth Stace told BBC News he had not yet seen details of what the Government was proposing to help out industries, but warned that job losses and plant closures could follow if the support was not adequate.

He said: “The key test in this proposal is are we now going to be on an equal footing with steelmakers in Germany?

“If this package results in us still paying 80% more for energy than our competitors in continental Europe, then really this will be a flimsy sticking plaster on what is really a major crisis that we are going through at the moment.”

Before he headed off on holiday to Spain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly backed a plan being developed by Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng for state loans to firms threatened with closure over the winter.

The move follows a Whitehall turf war between Mr Kwarteng and the Treasury last weekend, with the Treasury denying there are any plans for the Government to act.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “We are determined to secure a competitive future for our energy-intensive industries, which is why we have provided £2 billion in recent years to help with the costs of energy and to help protect jobs.

“Ministers and officials continue to engage constructively with industry to further understand and to help mitigate the impacts of high global gas prices.

“Some countries in Europe have lower industrial electricity prices in part because some costs are recovered from consumer bills.

“The Government is also reviewing its public procurement rules to better able to meet the needs of this country now we’ve left the European Union.”

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