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LABOUR has blamed a decade of Tory indifference towards the steel industry for plummeting production, as fears over the future of Liberty Steel continued.
The firm’s owner Sanjeev Gupta insisted yesterday that none of Liberty’s plants would be shut under his watch as bosses sought to urgently refinance its operations following the collapse of financial backer Greensill Capital.
The Tories have previously rejected an appeal by Liberty’s parent company, GFG Alliance, for a £170 million bailout.
With some 5,000 British jobs at stake, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng remained in “daily contact” with Liberty’s owners. He added that British steel was a “very important national asset.”
“It would be crazy if we were not to use this post-Brexit moment to use the flexibility we have to buy British steel. So that’s what we want to do,” he said.
But new Labour Party analysis revealed that steel production had in fact dropped by a fifth over the past decade. Production decreased by more than 21 per cent between 2010 and 2019, costing the British economy about £1 billion, the party found.
It blamed a decade of “Conservative indifference” for the plummeting output, which has put jobs and livelihoods at risk.
Shadow business minister Lucy Powell said: “Labour would stand up for our steelmakers with a proper industrial strategy, supporting the industry to decarbonise and putting in place stronger targets to buy British steel.
“And we would step up, not stand back, and protect jobs and plants at Liberty Steel.”
Trade unions reiterated the need to consider nationalisation and questioned why the industry has lacked proper financial backing from the government.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “Thousands of jobs are hanging on progress being made to put secure foundations under this vital sector.
“This is a core industry. It is hard to imagine any other major economy allowing its steel industry to lurch from crisis to crisis like this.
“We have said no option should be ruled out, including national ownership.”
Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community union, said that the government could “no longer hide behind EU state-aid rules as an excuse for doing nothing.
“In this year of Brexit, [UN climate conference] COP26, and massive investment in public infrastructure, our steelworkers need to see decisive game-changing interventions from government,” he said.
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