London, Mar 25 (PTI) UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the government is “actively engaged” with British-Indian tycoon Sanjeev Gupta-led Liberty Steel which has been undergoing crisis talks after the collapse of its biggest commercial lender Greensill Capital.
Addressing a question in the House of Commons on Wednesday from the Opposition Labour Party about the estimated 5,000 jobs at risk at Liberty Steel, Johnson said that UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has held three meetings with Liberty Steel in the last few days to take the question forward and see what the government can do.
There have been some calls for the nationalisation of the firm in order to save jobs.
“I share very much the anxiety of families of steelworkers at Liberty Steel,” Johnson said.
“We are actively engaged. We are investing huge sums in modernising British steel, making a commitment to British steel plants and making them more environmentally friendly,” he said.
Labour Leader Keir Starmer accused the Conservative Party led government of not prioritising the British steel industry.
“The UK steel industry is under huge pressure, and the government’s failure to prioritise British steel in infrastructure projects is costing millions of pounds of investment,” said Starmer during Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the Commons.
But Johnson countered that, thanks to leaving the European Union (EU), the UK can direct steel procurement of its major infrastructure projects to British firms.
“We have a massive opportunity because this government are engaged on a 640 billion pounds infrastructure campaign: HS2, the great Dogger Bank wind farm, Hinkley, the Beeching railway reversals. All these things that we are doing across the country will call for millions and millions of tonnes of British steel,” he said.
The crisis at Liberty Steel, the UK’s third-largest steel company, was triggered earlier this month after the Greensill Capital went into administration.
Greensill, whose advisers include former UK prime minister David Cameron, was a major provider of finance to Liberty Steel, which has sites across England and acquisitions in Scotland.
Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s rural economy minister, told the Scottish Parliament this week that the devolved government was “leaving no stone unturned” in considering options to safeguard the future of Liberty Steel owned operations in the region.
The Gupta family-run GFG Alliance, of which Liberty is a part, said discussions to secure “alternative long-term funding” are progressing well but will take some time to organise.
“While this takes place, we have asked all of our businesses to manage cash carefully,” a GFG Alliance spokesperson said.
“GFG Alliance as a whole is operationally strong and we are benefiting from a 13-year high in steel prices as well as strong markets in aluminium and iron ore.
“While Greensill’s difficulties have created a challenging situation, we have adequate funding for our current needs. Through our global efficiency drive we’ve improved our operations’ margins with most of our major businesses generating positive cashflows,” the spokesperson said.
GFG Alliance described itself as a collection of global businesses and investments owned by Sanjeev Gupta and his family and is structured into three core industrial pillars of Liberty Steel Group, Alvance Aluminium Group and SIMEC Energy Group, employing 35,000 people across 10 countries. PTI AK CPS