Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer called on the government to “come out of its hiding place” and help energy-intensive industries facing the possibility of having to shut down production due to high gas prices.
Opposition leader Sir Keir said it was “crucial to bring the energy crisis under control” ahead of a visit to steel maker Outokumpu Stainless Ltd on Thursday.
The Labor leader’s challenge comes after industry leaders in energy-intensive sectors warned that the government’s current backing plans could be nothing but ‘fragile plaster’.
Manufacturers who need a lot of energy to produce their products, such as steel and chemical makers, have already warned that soaring gas prices could force them to close factories for periods this winter.
Sir Keir said: “Labor called on the government to come out of its hiding place and work with energy-intensive industries, rather than find a scapegoat for the problem.
“They should convene sector-by-sector working groups to assess the needs in each sector and design tailor-made solutions.
“But instead, they put their time away from the office. As other countries rally and act, the UK stands back with staggering complacency. “
The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, on Wednesday advised the 27 member states to adopt measures such as tax cuts and state aid to help households and businesses overcome the impact of high energy prices.
Sir Keir also said: “Our energy intensive industries like steel are the backbone of UK manufacturing and crucial to our economic recovery.
“Our steel industry is not just a proud industry of our past, but – with Labor’s £ 3billion over 10 year pledge to make British steel green – a proud industry of our future.
“It is crucial that we bring the energy crisis under control. With millions of people already feeling the effects of rising energy prices and businesses and jobs at serious risk, we should help the industry prevent this from escalating into a winter crisis. “
Phantom Chancellor Rachel Reeves pledged that a Labor government would be “collaborative, working alongside businesses, workers, industry bodies and unions to unite in a national effort.”
UK Steel chief executive Gareth Stace told BBC News on Tuesday he had yet to see details of what the government proposed to help industries, but warned that job losses and plant closures could follow if support was not adequate.
He said: “The key test of this proposal is whether we are now going to be on a level playing field with German steelmakers?
“If this package causes us to pay another 80% more for energy than our competitors in mainland Europe, then that will really be a thin cast on what really is a major crisis that we are going through right now.”
Before going on vacation to Spain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly backed a plan drawn up by Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng for state loans to businesses threatened with closure over the winter.
The move follows a turf war in Whitehall between Mr Kwarteng and the Treasury last weekend, with the Treasury denying the government plans to act.
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: ‘We are committed to securing a competitive future for our energy-intensive industries, which is why we have provided £ 2bn. in recent years to help cover energy costs and to help protect jobs.
“Ministers and officials continue to engage constructively with industry to better understand and help mitigate the impacts of high global gas prices.
“Some countries in Europe have lower industrial electricity prices in part because some costs are recovered from consumers’ bills.
“The government is also reviewing its public procurement rules to better meet the needs of this country now that we have left the European Union.