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Government to Fight for UK Steel Jobs

Tata Steelworks, Port Talbot

Race against time to find buyer for steel plants

The Government has promised "a real fight" to save the British steel industry after Tata Steel confirmed it is looking into selling its entire UK steel operation.

Unions have reacted with shock and anger after the decision was taken at a company board meeting in Mumbai, India - casting doubt over the future of at least 15,000 steelworkers across the UK.

Workers had been hoping Tata would agree a plan to keep steelmaking in Port Talbot and other UK plants. Among the other plants that will be affected are Rotherham, Corby and Shotton.

Business minister Anna Soubry said the Government had received a plan last week from unions and management to keep production going at the Port Talbot plant, which is currently losing £1m a day.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the Government was considering "all options" - including taking a stake in the business until a private sector buyer could be found.

She said: "We want enough time to be able to secure a buyer. That will take months.

"We're determined to do everything we can to make sure we continue to make steel at places like Port Talbot."

Ms Soubry said she could not promise to save steelworkers' jobs but told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "I promise a real fight to secure that [steel production], not just for this generation but for future generations."

The Community Union is calling for an urgent meeting with David Cameron, warning the UK is "now on the verge of a national crisis".

 

In a statement, Tata said the board had unanimously concluded a plan aimed at saving plants including Port Talbot was unaffordable, adding it had been in "deep engagement" with the Government in seeking its support for the UK business.

"Following the strategic view taken by the Tata Steel Board regarding the UK business, it has advised the board of its European holding company ie Tata Steel Europe, to explore all options for portfolio restructuring including the potential divestment of Tata Steel UK, in whole or in parts," the company said.

Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who is with union delegates in India, told Sky News that while it was "disappointing" Tata had not supported a rescue plan, it was good news they were looking for potential buyers.

He said: "That is the most important thing: that Port Talbot continues to produce steel." 

Tata had already announced more than 1,000 job cuts in January, including 750 at Port Talbot in south Wales.

Thousands of steel jobs have been lost in the past year, with companies blaming cheap Chinese imports and high energy costs.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was "deeply concerned" by the news and called on the Government to intervene as a matter of urgency, possibly by taking a public stake in the industry.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said workers will "feel a grim sense of betrayal" and said he would be seeking a meeting with the Government "as a matter of urgency in order that steps to save our steel are taken by Government without delay".

There have also been calls for the Welsh Assembly to be recalled from its Easter recess to discuss the crisis.

Such a move was backed by Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, who told Sky News: "Everything needs to be done now and all parties need to pull together to try and make sure there is a future, because it's not just one individual steel plant that is at stake here, it's an entire industry."

Meanwhile, Nia Griffith MP, Labour's Shadow Secretary of State, responding to the news that TATA Steel plans to sell its UK business, said:

"Clearly this announcement by Tata Steel is extremely worrying for all our steelworkers and their families and the many others in our communities whose jobs are dependent on keeping the steelworks open.

"We all now need to work closely together to do everything we can to save our steel industry.

"It is absolutely imperative that the UK Government takes urgent action to offer the best possible conditions in order to attract a buyer, and takes heed of what the industry and steel MPs have been saying for several years, that the Chancellor should never have imposed such a high carbon tax in 2010, that there needs to be tougher action against Chinese dumping and that we need very significant and immediate investment in infrastructure projects using UK steel."

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