Business Secretary faces calls to quit over steel crisis

The site of Tata Steel in Stocksbridge. Picture: Andrew Roe

The site of Tata Steel in Stocksbridge. Picture: Andrew Roe

Business Secretary Sajid Javid is facing calls to quit after he took his daughter with him on a trip to Australia while the UK’s steel industry faces crisis.

The Cabinet minister has cut short his visit to Sydney to return to the UK following the decision by Indian conglomerate Tata, which has plants in Rotherham, Stocksbridge and Brinsworth, to sell its UK assets.

But he was unable to arrive back in the UK in time for an emergency meeting of ministers in Downing Street to discuss Tata’s decision, which could put thousands of jobs at risk.

Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, whose Aberavon seat includes Tata’s Port Talbot plant in South Wales, said Mr Javid should consider quitting, claiming the trip to Australia was a further indication of the Government’s lack of interest in the steel industry.

Mr Kinnock travelled to Mumbai with representatives of the Tata workforce including the Community Union’s general secretary Roy Rickhuss in an attempt to lobby Tata to keep the loss-making steelworks open.

“We have known for months that March 29 was going to be D Day for the British steel industry, with up to 40,000 jobs on the line,” he said.

“The Business Secretary was not even in the country, he chose to jet off to Australia. He should have been in Mumbai with me and Roy Rickhuss.”

He added: “I think, given the magnitude of what was happening and the fact it appears that he was not even in Australia for entirely work-related reasons, he should consider his position.”

In a criticism of the Government led by Mr Cameron, who represents Witney in Oxfordshire, he added: “I really wonder whether, if they had steelworks in Oxfordshire, would we have this level of disengagement?”

A spokesman for the Unite union said: “Everybody needs a holiday and time with their family. But with alarm bells ringing in the steel industry it is remarkable and does pose questions as to how alert the Secretary of State was to the latest crisis facing the industry.

“With tens of thousands of livelihoods in the balance and the nation facing an industrial crisis, David Cameron needs to personally take charge to protect steel and deliver on the Government’s promise to secure the future for the industry.”

A spokesman for the Business Secretary said: “We can confirm that Mr Javid’s daughter accompanied him on his visit to Australia. There was no cost to the taxpayer.”

Following the meeting in Downing Street Mr Cameron said the Government was ‘doing everything it can’ to resolve the steel crisis but nationalisation was not the right answer.

Mr Cameron said energy costs in the industry had been cut and the Government had helped to make sure there were penalties for steel dumping.

“We are not ruling anything out. I don’t believe nationalisation is the right answer,” he added.

Mr Rickhuss said Mr Cameron’s statement had been ‘underwhelming’ and added: “The Prime Minister had the gall to state that his intervention with Tata was responsible for securing a ‘sales process’ but the sad truth is that Business Department ministers didn’t take the opportunity to join us in Mumbai and the Government was nowhere to be seen.

“Now, thousands of steelworkers are faced with an uncertain future as their workplaces are put up for sale.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Warm words won’t secure a future for the British steel industry.

“It’s time for the Government to put its money where its mouth is. We need urgent and comprehensive government action, not the confused response we’ve seen so far.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose petition calling for the recall of Parliament to react to the crisis has been signed by more than 115,000 people, said: “The Prime Minister has offered no solutions today to the threat to our steel industry. His government is failing thousands of Tata steelworkers whose jobs are on the line.

“It’s not good enough for David Cameron to stand by and say the situation is difficult.”

A senior source close to the Business Secretary dismissed calls for him to quit and insisted it was “insulting” to suggest that he was not focused on the steel industry’s future.

The source said: “This is absolutely ridiculous. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has done more to help the UK steel industry than Sajid Javid.

“The fact he has just spent almost 24 hours in the air, flying half-way across the globe, proves how seriously he takes what is going on at Port Talbot. It is frankly insulting to suggest that his focus is anywhere other than securing a viable long-term future.

“Mr Javid has been completely transparent regarding his daughter accompanying him on this trip and has covered her costs entirely. There is no suggestion whatsoever that there was any cost to the taxpayer and all proper processes have been followed.”

Unite Wales secretary Andy Richards said: “Steelworkers at Port Talbot and across Tata steel will want to know just exactly what Sajid Javid intends to do to safeguard their industry, their livelihoods and their communities.

“So far all they have received is tea and sympathy from afar with no real concrete solutions for the industrial crisis facing the nation.

“We’ve been here before when the Business Secretary visited Redcar. Lots of noise and promises to deal with the symptoms of the steel crisis, rather than the causes as thousands of livelihoods went to wall because of government inaction.

“When he meets steelworkers, Sajid Javid needs to commit to ensuring British steel can compete on a level playing field by promising to drop his opposition to higher EU tariffs of cheap Chinese steel and honour the commitments to help with energy costs which were quietly watered down by George Osborne in his Budget.

“But most of all he needs to signal his commitment to steel and manufacturing by promising to back British steel with a line of financial support to get it through these dark days.

“He needs to look workers in the eye, not just at Port Talbot, but at sites across Tata Steel from Shotton and Llanwern, to Rotherham and Corby and say your Government backs you.

“A failure to do so will leave workers feeling his visit to Port Talbot is nothing more than an empty PR stunt and intensify the need for David Cameron to take personal control in securing a future for the UK steel industry.”