Union calls for the steel industry to be nationalised have been brushed aside by a Government minister.
The Government is calling on steel giant Tata to give enough time for buyers to be found for its UK business in a bid to save thousands of jobs.
Unions reacted with shock and anger at the company’s decision on Tuesday night to sell its UK assets, including the country’s biggest plant at Port Talbot in South Wales and the plant in Hartlepool.
In January,Tata announced 62 of the 500-strong workforce would be losing their jobs at its steel mill in Hartlepool, but the Port Talbot plans was gong to take the brunt of the 1,000 job loses.
Labour has led calls for the Government to intervene to save the industry from total collapse, possibly by taking a public stake in the industry.
Business minister Anna Soubry said: “We want enough time to be able to secure a buyer. That will take months.”
She insisted the Government is considering “all options” and raised the possibility of management and unions being involved in any future plans.
Union sources poured cold water on any talk of a management/union buyout.
Ms Soubry said she was not sure nationalising the industry was the right way forward, adding that the focus was on finding a buyer.
“We have to make sure we find a successful buyer. That is the dream. That is what we want to do,” she said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
She said there was huge sympathy for Tata, which is losing £1 million a day in its UK steel operations and had invested an “extraordinary” amount of money at Port Talbot.
“We want to establish a good period so we can sell it on. That is our priority, to look for a buyer. But we are being realistic about the state of the industry.
“There is an absolute determination by the Prime Minister and myself to see steel being made at Port Talbot.
“I don’t want it split up too much.”
First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones told the same programme that the Welsh government did not have the resources to take over the running of steel plants in Wales until a buyer is found.
Port Talbot was a modern plant which has had investment and was going through a “temporary difficultly. When the market picks up again Port Talbot will be in a good position”, he said.
Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of Community, called for an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the crisis.
Before leaving Mumbai, where he lobbied a meeting of the Tata board on Tuesday night, he said: “The UK is now on the verge of a national crisis. Tata Steel withdrawing completely from the UK risks destroying our entire steel industry. That would be a disaster both for those communities reliant on steel jobs and our entire industrial base.
“For any advanced manufacturing economy, steelmaking capacity is not optional. Losing the ability to make steel would fundamentally change our economy forever.”
Unite leader Len McCluskey said: “We are now in the grip of an industrial crisis. Decisions taken in the days to come will determine not just the futures of 19,000 workers and their families, across 14 sites, but the very success of this Government’s own economic programme.
“This is the time for the Government to say categorically, without hesitation, that these assets will be taken into safe-keeping by the nation because without them our economy will not flourish. We are already seeing jobs going in the supply chain because of the uncertainty over Tata’s future - our fear is this will snowball if insecurity is allowed to swirl around our steel sector.
“The unity of voices - from business to government - to say that temporary nationalisation is the way forward must not be ignored.
“Such is the scale of the matters before us that the Prime Minister must assume charge of the strategy from here on in. This will send the clear signal to the workforce, the industry and potential buyers that the Government is serious and driven about saving this foundation industry.”
A Business Department source would not be drawn on steps the Government was prepared to take at a time when the sale process had only just been announced.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid was not going to cut short his trade trip to Australia but was “being kept fully briefed on everything as it progresses”.
“He is totally and utterly involved at this time,” a spokeswoman said.
Dave Hulse, national officer of the GMB union, said: “We have been involved in steel meetings over many months with Government ministers and all we have seen is crisis after crisis, which demonstrates that these have been nothing more than talking shops.
“We have to look at nationalising the steel industry, even over a short period of time, to protect the assets. Otherwise, we will end up with the same situation we had with SSI in the North East where the Government badly let everyone down.”