An urgent question from Labour in the Commons today focused on the future of Liberty Steel, where the prospects of 5,000 jobs - including some in Yorkshire - have been thrown into turmoil after the collapse of the company’s main financial backer, Greensill Capital, earlier this month.
Scunthorpe Tory MP Holly Mumby-Croft welcomed Boris Johnson’s insistence that British steel would be a key part of big infrastructure projects such as HS2 but urged Kwasi Kwarteng to provide assurances to Liberty Steel staff.
Mr Kwarteng said: “The Prime Minister was absolutely right to say that we need a huge amount of steel, something like five million tonnes of steel over the next decade, and that this Government is committed to an ongoing steel industry.”
Rother Valley Conservative Alexander Stafford sought similar commitments as he said “good British and hopefully Sheffield steel is an essential component of our ongoing green industrial revolution, from electric cars to wind turbines”.
Mr Kwarteng said: “I've spoken to local management. I've spoken to representatives of the workforce, and we're doing all we can to look at all options to make sure that this vital piece of infrastructure continues and remains a going concern.”
In response to Sheffield South East Labour MP Clive Betts, he said Sheffield steel “certainly won't be consigned to the history books”.
“We all know the great history and traditions that Sheffield embodies and its vital role in the development of - the birth really of - the steel industry worldwide,” he said.
Miriam Cates, Conservative MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, said that “in the longer term for steelmaking to thrive in the UK, we must make sure that UK infrastructure projects use environmentally-friendly UK steel, providing well paid jobs and helping to level up”.
Labour MP for Rotherham Sarah Champion also urged the Government to commit to buying British steel for future projects.
Mr Kwarteng said the Government is “absolutely committed to seeing what we can do to make sure that we have a strong steel industry in this country”.
Labour is pressing for the Government to consider nationalising Liberty Steel, arguing it could offer the best value for money.
Asking the urgent question, shadow business minister Lucy Powell earlier stressed the importance of Liberty Steel to suppliers and workers in Rotherham, Stocksbridge, Hartlepool, Scunthorpe, Newport and elsewhere.
She said Liberty Steel businesses are viable, adding: “Can the Business Secretary confirm that he is considering all options – from immediate support if due diligence is met, to public ownership should the business fall into administration?
“Does he agree that nationalisation could be the best value for money option, especially when you look at British Steel, [on] which the Government spent £500m then sold off on the cheap to the Chinese.”
Mr Kwarteng said the Government’s infrastructure plans need several million tonnes of steel over the next decade, adding: “It’s absolutely a commitment of mine as Secretary of State to ensure we have a viable steel industry in this country.”
He earlier told MPs there is a “strong and united commitment” across management, the unions and Government officials to the steel industry.