Steel campaigners today backed Labour calls for the Government to consider nationalising a key company to save thousands of “crucial jobs”.
The future of Liberty Steel, which owns plants across the UK, is under the spotlight after specialist bank Greensill Capital plunged into administration.
Greensill Capital was the main lender to Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance which includes Liberty Steel.
Mr Gupta’s business empire employs around 5,000 people in the UK, a majority of whom work for Liberty Steel across its 11 sites throughout England, Scotland and Wales, including Scunthorpe, Newport and Rotherham.
Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband said the Government needed to explore every option to keep the company afloat, including nationalisation.
He told the BBC: “These are crucial jobs for communities up and down this country.
“Let’s hope that Liberty Steel can find the refinancing that it’s looking for but the Government needs a Plan B to make sure whatever happens, these jobs are saved.
“If there’s one lesson we learned from this pandemic it’s that our strategic infrastructure, our resilience really matters, and steel is a key part of our strategic infrastructure and resilience.
“We cannot afford to let these jobs go, Government has got to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
A National Trade Union Steel Coordinating Committee spokesman said: “We acknowledge that Mr Gupta has a plan to raise cash and refinance the business, but these are challenging circumstances and the future is uncertain.
“Last week the French Government gave stakeholders important reassurance when they said whatever happens they will stand behind Liberty Steel’s industrial sites and employees.
“Our Government must give the British workforce the same commitment, and we look to the Business Secretary to confirm he will intervene if necessary.
“Liberty Steel is a strategic business, a major employer and a low-carbon steelmaker vital to a greener future, and therefore a solution must be found.”
Labour MP for Newport East Jessica Morden, who chairs Parliament’s cross-party group on steel, said: “This is clearly a worrying time for Liberty Steel workers, including those in Newport.
“We need to hear from the Steel Minister on what steps the Government is taking to support our steel industry at this time.”
Ms Morden said the industry “will be vital as we seek to build back from the pandemic, and should be at the heart of a far-reaching UK industrial strategy”.
She added: “The Government needs to do all it can protect steel jobs and take action to support the manufacturing sector here in South Wales and across the UK.”
GMB national officer Ross Murdoch said the union’s position “is pretty much aligned to that of the Shadow Business Secretary”.
He added: “We hope the group secures the necessary finance to safeguard sites and jobs.
“However, if not, we require a Plan B that takes in all options – including finding alternative providers and/or nationalisation.”
He said that when the union met with Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng it “made the point we need strong government commitment to provide whatever support is required”.
Mr Murdoch added: “We cited the strong commitment given by the French Government, who said they will treat the Liberty Steel plant in Hayange as a strategic national asset, safeguarding the industry and jobs.
“Mr Kwarteng agreed to have wider high level Government discussions on this, monitor developments very closely and work to build a strong sustainable steel sector in the UK.”
Business Secretary Mr Kwarteng said he was “very engaged” with the situation surrounding Liberty.
He added: “I’ve spoken to trade unions in Liberty Steel, I’ve spoken to local management.
“I’m looking at real data accounts, what’s going on in terms of the sector, and it’s a matter of grave concern, but we just have to wait and see how that situation develops.”
The Mirror has been campaigning to Save Our Steel since 2015 when the industry was hammered by plant closures and thousands of job losses.