Industry calls for action over surging gas prices

Steel factory worker

Steel factory worker

Industries hit by soaring energy costs have made another appeal to the government for action.

Further talks with ministers will continue on Monday over a crisis that has sparked warnings some factories.

Sectors such as ceramics, paper and steel manufacturing have called for a price cap, but talks with government on Friday failed to reach a solution.

But the Treasury has denied being in detailed talks with Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng about the crisis.

Dave Dalton, chief executive of British Glass, called that “very alarming”.

He was part of Friday’s talks with Mr Kwarteng, but told the BBC the meeting “was very much an introductory one. We did not get to specifics”.

Mr Dalton said he had hoped the government would have made progress over the weekend, but that appears not to have happened. “We need immediate action,” he said.

Mr Kwarteng will not be involved directly at Monday’s talks with industry representatives, according to BBC political correspondent Adam Fleming.

Business minister Lee Rowley will lead the meeting with industry representatives later this afternoon, and is having another meeting with steel bosses on Tuesday.

Adrian Curry, managing director of UK-based Encirc, one of the largest container glass plants in Europe, said industry was not asking for a bailout, but the situation for some companies was critical.

“We pay more for our energy than competitors in other countries,” he told the BBC. He said his company would normally spend £40m a year on energy, but was now looking at bills up to £100m.

“It’s quite incredible,” he said, adding that costs will have to be passed on to customers. And while there was not threat to his company’s survival, it was clear talking to others in industry that many companies are hurting.

Some companies are considering stopping production to cut costs, and others “are very close to the edge”.

‘Get a grip’

Trade group UK Steel told the BBC that Boris Johnson needed to take control before it was too late – although it described as “really good news” an announcement that the country’s third largest steel maker, Liberty Steel, would restart operations at its plant in Rotherham later this month.

The Unite union also called on the prime minister to “get a grip” to avert job losses if companies have to shut production because they cannot cope with the increased cost of energy.

However, Conservative MP Mark Harper said the government should resist demands for financial support.

Ed Miliband MP, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary, said: “Yet again we see that in the face of their failed energy policy, the government has nothing to offer businesses or consumers to help them with the crisis they are facing.

“For firms and families waiting to hear how the Business Secretary might help, there is a total absence of a plan and no extra help.

“The government is squabbling amongst itself, with the Treasury even denying they are talking to BEIS about providing help for large, energy intensive industries.”

On Sunday, Mr Kwarteng told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme the situation was “critical” and said he was “looking to find a solution”.

“We already have existing support and we’re looking to see whether that’s sufficient to get us through this situation,” he said.

However, a Treasury source said the business secretary had been “mistaken” to say that he had been working on possible support measures with the Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

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