The Labour leader told the Mirror there was a “massive problem with the cost of energy going through the roof”
Steelworkers are “astonished” at government “complacency” as an energy price crisis grips heavy industry, Keir Starmer warned tonight.
Speaking exclusively to the Mirror after visiting Outokumpu Stainless in Sheffield – the “Steel City” – Mr Starmer said: “The number one issue – both on the managerial side and the staff … is the massive problem with the cost of energy going through the roof and the potential impact that may have on the steel sector is absolutely number one in their minds.
“Like us, they are astonished that the Government is standing complacently by.
“The most activity we’ve had is a squabble about whether they are talking to the sector.”
Warring ministers have clashed over what support to give the industry, which employs 33,700 people directly and supports another 42,000 jobs in supply chains.
Mills have paused production over recent weeks because of soaring power costs making plants too expensive to run.
Touring the Outokumpu factory, the Labour leader and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves saw for themselves the “huge energy” used to melt steel at the recycling plant.
Mr Starmer called on ministers to thrash out a “support package to make sure this energy crisis doesn’t translate into job losses on a permanent basis”.
He warned it would be “unforgivable” if an energy price spike triggered long-term redundancies.
“We can’t allow that short-term problem to lead to job losses. That would be completely wrong,” he said.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng submitted proposals to the Treasury earlier this week for a loan scheme to help energy-intensive industries like steel cope with the global spike in energy costs.
BBC/AFP via Getty Images)
The move came after the Treasury previously denied there were any discussions with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the issue.
There has so far been no formal response from Chancellor Rishi Sunak, and industry leaders – who have yet to see details of the plan – fear it may amount to no more than a “flimsy sticking plaster”.
With the COP26 climate change summit taking place in Glasgow next month, and growing clamour for the UK to slash carbon emissions, Mr Starmer rejected claims the sector is outdated and should be left to wane to boost Britain’s environmental image.
“I completely don’t accept that,” he said.
“In what future do people think we leave without steel?
“Trains, cars, infrastructure, manufacturing, iPhones, construction – you name it.”
Labour used last month’s party conference to announce a £3billion plan for steel, outlining how it would help the sector switch to more environmentally-friendly production.
Mr Starmer said: “The question is, ‘Have you got a Government bold enough to invest in the future production and recycling of steel in a way which is consistent with our climate obligations?’”
Unions “can’t imagine a future in Yorkshire or across the country without steel”, said the Labour leader.
“What they are looking for is, ‘What is the immediate plan to get us through this energy price crisis, then what’s the longer term plan in terms of the future of steel?’,” he added.
The Mirror has been campaigning to Save Our Steel since the sector was hammered by plant closures and thousands of redundancies in 2015.