Business secretary also says David Cameron did nothing wrong in his work on behalf of Greensill Capital
All options remain on the table for Liberty Steel, the business secretary has said, insisting the industry still has a future in the UK.
Concerns for the future of Liberty Steel and its 3,000 UK workers – with a further 10,000 supply chain jobs dependent on it – have grown after the government rejected its parent company’s plea for a £170m rescue loan.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday, Kwasi Kwarteng described Liberty Steel as a “really important national asset” but said it was important to distinguish between the steel business and its parent company, the Gupta Family Group. It is part of the business empire built up by the industrialist Sanjeev Gupta.
Kwarteng said: “We are custodians of taxpayers’ money, and there were concerns over the very opaque structure of the GFG Group and we feel that if we gave the money, there is no guarantee that that money would stay in the UK and protect British jobs. It’s a multinational enterprise.”
He did not rule out the possibility of the government taking Liberty Steel into public ownership. “All options are on the table. We think the steel industry has a future in the UK. Only two weeks ago my department published an industrial decarbonisation strategy. We want to see clean steel … of the kind Liberty Steel makes.”
Gupta has sought extra funding for the business in the three weeks since the collapse of Liberty Steel’s key financial backer, Greensill Capital.
Government officials have readied a plan to step in to keep Liberty Steel in operation if it is forced to enter administration, after writing to GFG Alliance rejecting the request for money to cover its need for cash to run its operations. Among the options under consideration is a similar strategy as that used to save British Steel in May 2019, when an official receiver, a government employee, took control of the company while it sought a buyer.
Kwarteng suggested the former prime minister David Cameron had done nothing wrong in his work on behalf of Greensill Capital.
The business secretary said there had been a two-year gap between Cameron leaving office and being hired by Greensill. “There is no suggestion that he can’t pursue another career after leaving politics," hy het bygevoeg.
He sidestepped a question on whether lobbying rules ought to be reviewed, sê: “there is a great deal of transparency in the system”. He said a review was a matter for Lord Evans, who chairs the committee on standards in public life.