Business secretary holds crisis talks with Tata Steel bosses and unions

tata steel

The new business secretary has held talks with Tata Steel UK bosses and trade unions at the Port Talbot steelworks in an attempt to resolve the crisis facing the industry, reports The Guardian.

Union leaders said they were encouraged by the talks with Greg Clark, who has replaced Sajid Javid as the man tasked with protecting steelmaking in the UK.

Approximately 11,000 jobs are at risk at Tata Steel after the Indian company threatened to withdraw from its UK operations. Tata Steel is working on a deal to keep its British business through a merger with German conglomerate ThyssenKrupp. However, the agreement depends on the government providing loans worth hundreds of millions of pounds and passing laws that will allow Tata Steel to restructure the British Steel pension scheme, which has liabilities of almost £15bn.

Tata Steel is concerned over whether Theresa May’s government will still sign off these measures and is holding off from making a final decision on its UK business, which includes the blast furnaces at Port Talbot.

However, Clark is thought to have reassured union leaders that protecting the steel industry remains a priority for the government.

Roy Rickhuss, the general secretary of Community, the steelworkers’ union, said Clark understood the pressure on the industry. “I am encouraged that Greg Clark has met with steelworkers in his first week on the job. He will have left today in no doubt that Community will keep the pressure on this government to keep their promises to protect the steel industry,” he said.

“The new secretary of state clearly understands the scale of the challenge still facing the industry, but his words to steelworkers today must be followed by firm actions to help save their jobs. By visiting Port Talbot, he will have seen first hand that the highly skilled workforce is the foundation on which any success for this industry will be built.”

Unions and business leaders have previously welcomed the government’s pledge to draw up an industrial strategy for Britain. This suggests that ministers are willing to step in and protect strategic industries.

The term “industrial strategy” has been added to Clark’s department, which has been given responsibility for Britain’s energy policies. His full title is secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy.

A spokesman for Tata Steel said: “We were pleased to welcome the new secretary of state to the Port Talbot steelworks to see, first hand, world-class steelmaking as it happens.

“The visit follows Monday’s welcome comments from the prime minister that helping the steel industry secure a long-term viable future remains a top priority for her government.

“We look forward to working urgently with the new secretary of state, alongside other stakeholders, to develop the best outcome for our UK business and its employees, as well as others including members of the British Steel pension scheme.”