Johnson Vows to Protect U.K. Steel Jobs With Liberty at Risk
(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to protect jobs in the U.K. steel industry, as ministers remain locked in discussions over how to protect Sanjeev Gupta’s Liberty Steel from collapse.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has met with Liberty Steel executives three times in recent days “to take the question forward, to see what we can do,” Johnson told the House of Commons on Wednesday. He also indicated the government will gear procurement decisions toward locally-produced steel, calling it a benefit of Brexit.
“We will do everything we can to ensure that we continue with British jobs producing British steel,” Johnson said. “All the things we are doing across the country, they will call for millions and millions of tons of British steel, and now thanks to leaving the European Union, we have an opportunity to direct that procurement at British firms.”
Liberty’s future was put in doubt by the unraveling of Greensill Capital, the biggest lender to GFG Alliance, of which Liberty is a part. That threatens more than 3,000 jobs at Liberty and about 5,500 workers in the wider alliance, and the government is drawing up contingency plans in case it needs to step in.
Johnson pointed to government plans for 640 billion pounds ($877 billion) of infrastructure investment as providing a “massive opportunity” to boost British steelmakers. He named projects including the HS2 high speed rail line, the Dogger Bank offshore wind farms and the Hinkley nuclear plant.
Johnson was responding to questions from opposition Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer, who accused the government of failing to “prioritize British steel” in infrastructure projects, and from Conservative lawmaker Miriam Cates, who warned of the “uncertain” future faced by Liberty’s Stocksbridge plant in her constituency.
“I share very much the anxiety of families of steelworkers who work in Liberty Steel,” Johnson said. “We are investing huge sums in modernizing British steel plants and making them more environmentally friendly.”
Labour is seeking a guarantee from ministers to use British-made steel in all government infrastructure projects. Analysis published late Tuesday by the opposition party showed that 24 pence in every pound spent on steel by government infrastructure projects went abroad in 2018-19, the last tax year for which data are available.
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