The Government has been attacked for not taking emergency action months ago to head off the jobs crisis now gripping the steel industry.
Trade group UK Steel said it set out six months ago what needed to be done in the short term – but it has not happened.
Director Gareth Stace said: “For more than 15 years we have been telling successive governments that a raft of ill thought policies were body blows to the UK steel sector.
“Added together they have significantly put us in the sorry position we find ourselves in today. A situation far worse than what was envisaged after the closure of the Redcar site six months ago.
“The Government needed to fully and swiftly address the emergency actions months ago and then focus on the underlying long term concerns of the sector and unique action that reflects the depth of the current crisis, namely tackling unfair trade and being highly committed and creative around direct state aid for this vital industrial sector.”
The statement was made as the Government was outlining its response to the crisis, with workers at the country’s biggest steel plant awaiting a visit from the Business Secretary.
Sajid Javid travelled to Port Talbot in South Wales to meet managers and staff after having to cut short a business trip to Australia to deal with the aftermath of Tata Steel’s shock decision to sell its loss-making UK assets.
Chancellor George Osborne said the Government was doing everything that is “practicable and possible” to allow tougher tariffs on cheap steel.
Responding to accusations that import taxes were being blocked, Mr Osborne said Britain was working with other countries to make sure tariffs were in place on imports of unfairly cheap steel from countries such as China.
Speaking during a visit to Manchester, the Chancellor said: “First of all, it’s a really difficult time for the steel workers and their families and we are doing everything that is practicable and possible to help those families, to help communities affected like Port Talbot and Scunthorpe, and to make sure that there is a long-term future for Britain’s steel industry.
“There’s a global crisis in steel, you go to all these other countries, they have got similar problems because the price has fallen.
“What we are doing is both action at home – we are cutting the taxes on energy bills at steel plants to help them, we are making sure that as we build things like the new high speed railway we are using British steel – and then internationally we are working with others, including other European countries, to make sure there are tariffs when you get imports of unfairly cheap steel from countries like China, and Britain has been leading that action with the people who pool together the other European countries and said let’s act together, because acting together of course, we are much more likely to have an impact than if we are acting alone.”
Ministers have been accused of prioritising trade links with China over support for the UK steel industry.
Mr Stace said the Government should stop blocking moves to scrap the so-called Lesser Duty Rule, “removing the sign above Europe, saying please dump here, you’re welcome.”
A spokesman for the Community union said: “Steelworkers across the country will be shocked that it has taken this long for the Government to finally wake up to the crisis facing our steel industry.
“Sajid Javid cannot simply arrive at Port Talbot and read out his list of ’achievements’ – this week’s news is proof that Government action thus far has been woefully inadequate.”
Unite Wales secretary Andy Richards said: “Steelworkers at Port Talbot and across Tata steel will want to know just exactly what Sajid Javid intends to do to safeguard their industry, their livelihoods and their communities.
“So far all they have received is tea and sympathy from afar with no real concrete solutions for the industrial crisis facing the nation.”
Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB union, said: “Never in our wildest dreams did we consider that the Tory Party would allow the Chinese Communist party to dictate the fate of vital industries like steel and energy in the UK.
“It’s time for Parliament to assert the right of people in the UK to protect our vital national interests.
“If steel goes overseas, governments will be able to dictate UK defence and foreign policy. The steel industry, like the shipbuilding industry, is as vital to our national security as the armed forces.
“There was a time when the Tories sought to root out the reds under the bed. Now they want to get into bed with them.”