The steel industry is braced for fresh job losses amid a continuing crisis in the sector which has already led to the closure of a giant plant.
Tata is rumoured to be preparing to announce cuts at its sites in Scunthorpe and Scotland, which could affect more than 1,000 workers.
An announcement is expected next week, probably on Tuesday, which would deal a massive blow to the industry so soon after steelmaking ended at the Redcar plant on Teesside.
Tata said it would not comment on “rumour and speculation”.
Unions, business leaders and ministers attended a Steel Summit in Rotherham, called in the wake of the closure of the SSI plant, at which ministers were pressed to take “urgent short-term action” to support the industry.
Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community union, said: “The Government scandalously missed opportunities to intervene and protect the industrial assets in Redcar, which has left a community devastated and taxpayers picking up a bill of hundreds of millions to clean the site.
“This must not be allowed to happen again and what has happened in Redcar should focus everyone’s minds.
“For several years, we have been calling for a government-led steel strategy, which recognises the importance of this foundation industry to the wider UK economy. The current steel crisis is partly a result of such a strategy not existing.
“There is a case for urgent, short-term action to help create a level-playing field for UK steel producers. Retaining vital steel making skills should be a priority. Other European countries offer support for short-time working to help retain or upskill steelworkers ready for when the market recovers.”
Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke said: “The steel industry is at crisis point. Unless the Government pursues an industrial strategy with a ’steel heart’ then soundbites like ’Northern Powerhouse’ and ’March of the Makers’ will be nothing more than empty rhetoric for communities who rely on skilled jobs in steel and manufacturing.
“Ministers need to start by keeping the coke ovens at Redcar burning and supporting the wider steel industry through these turbulent times, so that British industry can benefit from major infrastructure projects, such as HS2.
“A failure to do so will torpedo any ambition to rebalance the economy and lay waste to communities and key industrial assets. The clock is ticking. It’s time for the Government to stop washing its hands of the industry and intervene to support steel.
“The Germans do it through an active industrial strategy and the Italians do it by intervening directly in their steel industry making a mockery of ministers’ claims that EU rules forbid it.”
Emerging from the steel summit, Karl Koehler, Tata Steel’s chief executive of European operations, would not confirm the job losses in Scunthorpe and Scotland, saying: “Today was not about announcements.
“When we have something to announce we will do it in the appropriate fashion, as you know.”
Asked about the job rumours, he said: “I do understand that rumours are always difficult. That’s why we always try to avoid that and come into direct language.
“I’m not making the announcement here today. I was here for the steel summit.”
But he described the situation more generally as “serious”.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid, who chaired the summit, said: “This is a hugely difficult time for the steel industry across the world – one of the toughest times ever. It is a worldwide problem, and while it will not be solved overnight, we will work closely in partnership with the industry to help find some answers.
“There is no magic bullet and we can’t change the price of steel, but we can forensically work through all of the challenges we know the industry is facing to see what solutions there might be.
“We will also continue to do everything we can to support workers and to continue building a strong economy across the country.”
Shifts at the Redcar plant finished on Thursday, with union officials describing it as the “killing of steel making on Teesside”.
The coke ovens and blast furnace at the Redcar steelworks are being shut down after the Thai owners went into liquidation and no buyer was found.
The summit was held at the Advanced Manufacturing Park, which overlooks the former site of the Orgreave coking plant – the scene of the some of the most violent confrontations in the Miners’ Strike 30 years ago.