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by our parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt
TORY ministers were told today to take immediate action to solve the energy crisis and protect jobs rather than burying their heads in the sand.
Talks were continuing between the government and leaders of energy intensive industries, who warned that soaring wholesale gas prices could soon grind production to a halt.
The ceramics, paper and steel manufacturing sectors are among those that want an industrial price cap to help firms survive, but emergency discussions with the government last Friday failed to produce an agreement on the issue.
As the Morning Star went to press, there were reports that Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng had submitted a formal bid to the Treasury for help for industries being hit by the rise in global gas prices.
The Treasury has previously denied being in detailed talks with Mr Kwarteng on the issue — an admission branded “very alarming” by British Glass chief executive Dave Dalton.
Business minister Lee Rowley is due to meet with steel bosses on Tuesday as calls for action grow.
Reacting to the crisis, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government must not bury its head in the sand. We can’t afford for factories to grind to a halt, risking jobs and livelihoods.
“Our energy and manufacturing sectors provide 800,000 direct, skilled jobs, with hundreds of thousands more in related industries.
“Rather than rowing with each other, ministers should get industry leaders and unions around the table to find a way through this crisis.”
Companies receiving financial support must spell out how they will protect jobs during the transition to a net zero-carbon economy, Ms O’Grady said, adding that ministers should reboot furlough into a permanent short-time working scheme if any jobs are threatened.
The TUC’s call came as Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves called on her Tory counterpart Rishi Sunak to support key industries and provide a guarantee that firms will not be allowed to fail due to the increase in energy costs.
The Leeds West MP said: “Our brilliant British industries are a crucial cornerstone of our economy, and the government should be protecting and supporting them through a crisis which has come about from their own lack of planning.
“They have a duty to get an immediate grip on this situation, and businesses need reassurance that this is happening. Not doing so is looking increasingly out of touch.”
The GMB union meanwhile criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson for “swanning off on jollies” at a time of crisis, with reports suggesting that he recently left for a stay in Marbella, Spain.
General secretary Gary Smith said: “Industry is on the brink of collapse, while our members are desperately concerned their jobs are about to go down the pan.
“While working people worry about how they are going to pay the bills, the Prime Minister is relaxing in a luxury villa — missing in action once more.”
In addition to concerns about jobs, there are mounting fears about extra costs being passed on to consumers.
Industry regulator Ofgem’s price cap offers some protection but was increased at the beginning of the month, meaning that about 15 million households face a 12 per cent rise in energy costs. It is reviewed every six months, so a further rise is likely on April 1 next year.
End Fuel Poverty Coalition co-ordinator Simon Francis said that rather than “playing the blame game,” Tory ministers should extend the eligibility of the winter fuel payment to help counterbalance increased costs.
When combined with those already receiving the government’s warm home discount, the move would help an additional 2.6 million households nationwide, he said.
“It would buy the government time to work out a longer-term solution, which will be needed when the price cap is increased again,” Mr Francis told the Morning Star.
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