LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister David Cameron will hold an emergency meeting to tackle the crisis hitting the country’s steel industry on Thursday after India’s Tata Steel said it would pull out, putting thousands of jobs at risk.
The government is facing criticism over its response to the news, with opposition lawmakers saying it was “asleep at the wheel” when Tata, the country’s biggest producer, decided to sell its loss-making British operations late on Tuesday.
The move leaves 15,000 workers at plants including the country’s largest steel works in Port Talbot, south Wales, facing an uncertain future unless a buyer is found for a business that has been battered by cheap Chinese competition and high costs.
Cameron and Sajid Javid, the business minister, were out of the country when Tata took the decision at a board meeting in Mumbai, leaving a junior colleague to respond.
The government has said it is working to broker a deal with potential buyers but ministers initially contradicted each other over what options they would consider.
After a business minister, Anna Soubry, said she would not rule out a temporary nationalisation of the assets to help secure the future of the industry, her more senior colleague Javid appeared on television to say “nationalisation was not the answer”.
The opposition Labour party and Britain’s national media were scathing in their response, calling the government’s handling of the case “chaotic”.
Stephen Kinnock, the local lawmaker in south Wales, said the government was a “total shambles”.
“It’s absolutely extraordinary that they’ve been asleep at the wheel for this long,” he told Sky News on Thursday.
“Why is it that the Prime Minister seems to be reacting to this as if he didn’t see it coming. They’re in total disarray.”
The BBC said the government may seek to secure a sale by offering loan guarantees to any potential buyers and setting tighter rules around the use of British steel on major infrastructure projects.
(Reporting by Paul Sandle; editing by Kate Holton)