British Steel should receive long-term Government loans with employees given share ownership in a “John Lewis” style model, the Brexit Party has said.
At a party rally in Scunthorpe, where more than 3,000 workers are anxiously waiting to know their future, newly-elected MEPs said the industry was “the absolute DNA of the UK economy” and it was vital to prevent it going under.
It came as owner Greybull Capital, which has faced intense criticism over the company’s collapse into compulsory liquidation last month, was reported to be planning a bid to buy the group’s operations in France and Holland.
The private equity firm which bought Tata Steel for £1 in 2016, would ditch the UK parts of the company, including the Scunthorpe steelworks, the Financial Times reported.
John Longworth, newly elected Yorkshire and Humber Brexit Party MEP, said he would not be opposed to temporary nationalisation.
He said the Government should implement new public policy changes "now" to favour British Steel, against EU regulations, immediately and not wait until October 31, adding: “If the EU want to take action so be it.”
He said their policies would include the UK being able to favour national industries, a competition regime that provides competition only within the UK and that favours UK consumers, and a carbon trading regime based only on UK companies.
The business could be financed via private capital and Government long-term “patient capital”, currently forbidden under State Aid rules, with the Government potentially holding a “golden share” to prevent asset-stripping.
"If we were in Government we want to create an environment in which we would encourage ownership of this type of organisation to be on a share ownership model, where the employees themselves are given a share."
He told the meeting: “However free market we want to be it is still very important that we are able to provide for the few industries that underpin the UK as an independent nation.”
Listening was Jim Crossman, former chief executive of Scunthorpe-based steel business Caparo Merchant Bar, now part of Liberty House Group. Mr Crossman said: “While all this is going on Rome is burning.
“It’s nice words. Will it happen? I have my doubts, the reason being it needs action now.”
Lloyd Dickinson, whose company Sparkeit Ltd has been supplying the steelworks for 35 years, has been told he is unlikely to be paid for three months of products up to May 22.
Mr Dickinson said the Brexit Party were “the only people talking sense”, adding: “The Government has to decide whether they want 4,500 people in work or on the dole.
"It’s not just the 4,500 - it’s companies like mine that will go to the wall.”
Jerry Gorman, who ran the steelworks in Scunthorpe from 1989 to 1991, said “fundamental change” was needed to save the industry, which had been “badly run down.”
He said: “My gut feeling is the Government dare not let it go.”
Alasdair McDiarmid, from the Community steelworkers’ union, said workers would be concerned to “hear Greybull may be attempting to cherry-pick integral parts of the business.”
On the Brexit Party plans, a spokesman said they welcomed the political consensus that steel had to be part of the UK’s industrial future but they did not want to see workers’ livelihoods “kicked around like a political football”.
Business Secretary Greg Clark said each member of the British Steel Support Group, which includes trade unions and local leaders, was “steadfast in our commitment to seeing steel production continue well into the future.”
He said: “Our first priority is to continue to support the Official Receiver through the sale process as he aims to find a suitable buyer for the company, and to safeguard jobs. We have agreed to meet on a regular basis as part of that endeavour.
“We also send our thanks and appreciation to British Steel’s highly skilled and talented workforce who, despite facing an understandably worrying time, have continued to lead the company to record levels of steel production – testament to their commitment and hard work."