Saving Port Talbot steelworks is an issue of 'national importance', Vince Cable tells David Cameron

Steel giant Tata is set to decide the fate of the Welsh plant imminently

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The Independent Online

Securing the future of steelworks at Port Talbot is an issue of “national importance” which David Cameron and George Osborne should take personal charge of, the former Business Secretary Sir Vince Cable has said. 

Steel giant Tata has held a crunch meeting in Mumbai, with the company set to decide the fate of the Welsh plant imminently. Tata announced more than 1,000 job losses at UK plants in January, 750 of them in Port Talbot. A recovery plan is still on the table, but if the company does not back it Port Talbot’s future will be cast into serious doubt. 

Business minster, Anna Soubry, said the Government was prepared to consider “all options” to ensure steel production continued at the site, but sought to blame Sir Vince, who served as Business Secretary in the coalition government, for not doing enough to strengthen the position of UK steel production, which has suffered a wave of job losses in recent months. 

Responding to the criticism Sir Vince accused Ms Soubry of “passing the buck” and said the Government had “taken their eye off” its industrial strategy.

“This is a hugely worrying time for the hundreds of people working at Port Talbot’s steelworks and they need our support as they wait for news about the future of the site,” Sir Vince said. “It is a matter of national importance and the Prime Minister and Chancellor should now lead the Government’s response to this,” he said. 

The PM’s spokesperson said that the Government was “working very closely with the industry to look at ways we can help to deliver a long term sustainable future”.

“There are already a number of steps that we have taken for the steel industry more broadly. We stand ready to work with Tata,” the spokesperson said. 

Sir Vince Cable, the former Business Secretary (Getty)

However, the Government risked criticism as it emerged that the current Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, will be on Government business in Australia from Wednesday, and that no ministers are in Mumbai pushing Port Talbot’s case. 

The Unite union urged the Government to take “a more interventionist approach” to securing the future of Port Talbot and UK steelmaking. 

“Independent analysis shows that Tata’s own transformation plan will return the Port Talbot plant to a competitive footing, but it is clear that the UK government needs to play an active role in backing investment to secure the plant’s future for generations to come,” national officer Harish Patel said.

Last year, 2,200 workers lost their jobs when the 98-year-old steelworks at Redcar, Teeside, were closed by operators SSI UK which blamed the global slump in the price of steel.