Sir Keir Starmer said that he had “productive” talks during a visit to Port Talbot, as he promised to make the UK a world leader in clean green steel.
The Labour leader visited Tata’s giant Port Talbot plant in South Wales, promising that the industry was “the future, not the past”.
Sir Keir, who was meeting with representatives of the three main steelworkers’ unions – Community, GMB and Unite – during his visit, made the vow as the industry faces job cuts as part of the drive to lower emissions.
He has made delivering clean power by 2030 one of his five missions for a Labour government.
“We have ambitious plans for the steel industry. We see this as the future, not the past. That requires strategic thinking about our economy. We want to go to clean power, that will bring down energy costs,” Sir Keir said.
He added: “If we are able to put in place our mission for clean power 2030, that will require more steel – and therefore we want the demand for steel to go up. Of course, we need to transition to green steel. But we must do this transition very carefully, protecting the jobs and the skills and the history that we have here in South Wales. Connecting and bridging that to the future, which is green steel.
“We have been having productive discussions this morning about what I think will be a very bright future for steel. But only with strategic thinking around it.”
The Government last month announced it will pump up to £500 million into Port Talbot as part of plans to produce “greener” steel – but as many as 3,000 jobs could be lost.
The taxpayer funding will help switch the plant’s two coal-fired blast furnaces to electric arc versions, which can run on zero-carbon electricity.
The firm, which employs around 8,000 people across the UK, will also invest about £750 million in the project.
Electric arc furnaces (EAF) are mainly used to melt scrap metal for conversion into new products, while blast furnaces are used to create steel from iron ore and coke.
Around 2,000 jobs are also reportedly at risk at Scunthorpe-based British Steel, according to the Sunday Times, although final decisions have not been made.
A Government spokesman said: “Our commitment to the UK steel sector is clear, including announcing a major package of support on energy costs and recent Government financing to enable greener steel production by Tata Steel at Port Talbot.
“We continue to work closely with industry, including British Steel, to secure a sustainable and competitive future for the UK steel industry.”
A Labour spokesman said: “We’ll invest in the communities that are at the heart of the future by investing £3 billion over a decade to greening steel across the UK, from Port Talbot, to Rutherglen, to Scunthorpe.
“Our long-term plan for steel will see a 10-year commitment to invest in the new green technologies we need to keep UK steel competitive, ensure jobs stay in the UK and reduce our carbon emissions.
“That’s the difference between Labour and the Conservatives, they lurch from crisis to crisis while Labour has a plan for a decade of national renewal.”
Community’s general secretary Roy Rickhuss said: “It is clear that Labour is on the side of steelworkers, and we need a Keir Starmer-led Labour government that will deliver the investment needed for our industry to thrive.
“After three years of discussions, the deal that Tata and the UK Government have cooked up – with no input from the unions – is a botched plan for decarbonisation on the cheap.”
He called for a “long, robust consultation” on the plan with the chance for the union to put forward alternative proposals, adding that “we will do everything in our power to support our members and all options should be on the table”.
The Unite union called for Sir Keir to back its plan for the industry, which includes a £12 billion, 12-year phased transition to green steel and changes to procurement rules to allow public contracts to use 100% British metal.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Port Talbot can remain at the centre of a vibrant UK steel industry if Keir Starmer commits a future Labour government to supporting Unite’s plan for steel.
“Unite’s workers’ plan for steel shows politicians have the opportunity to make the UK a world leader in steel production – we will be doing everything in our power to make sure they grasp it.”
A Tata Steel UK spokesperson said: “Our proposals would secure the long-term future for steel making in Port Talbot, bolster UK steel security, and help develop a green industrial ecosystem in South Wales.
“We are committed to meaningful consultation with our trade union partners and will work closely with the UK and Welsh governments through a dedicated transition board to support affected workers and their communities”.