Welsh actor Michael Sheen has warned of the devastating impact job losses will have on his hometown of Port Talbot following the announcement on Monday that the Indian-owned steel company Tata will axe 750 workers from its production plant in South Wales.
"It's a very frightening time for the town," he told BBC 2's ‘Newsnight,’ demanding the Government "be honest" about whether it was letting the industry "die by stealth."
"The Government says that they are doing everything they can to help it but their actions and their words don't really fit together," he added. "If the government does think there is no way to support the steel industry… then they need to very quickly put in place support for the communities that are being affected.”
In response, Industry Minister Anna Soubry insisted the government was committed to UK steel production. “I’ve visited Port Talbot,” she said, “and what came across was the level of honesty and realism among the men, I think they do get it… they really understand the crisis the steel industry is in."
“You might understand that you’re drowning but that doesn’t mean you don’t want a helping hand to stop yourself from drowning,” Sheen shot back.
Alongside the cuts in Port Talbot, a further 300 jobs are to go at steel mills in Llanwern, Trostre, Corby and Hartlepool, sparking further scrutiny of the government’s handling of the crisis. A staggering 5,000 job losses have beset Britain’s once thriving steel industry since last summer, a consequence of high energy costs and cheap Chinese imports.
On Monday the chief executive of Tata Steel's European operations said "tough actions" were required due to market pressures.
Labour and the unions attacked the government for doing "too little, too late," however Prime Minister David Cameron blamed a worldwide surplus of steel for the industry crisis. "I want to have a strong British steel industry at the heart of our important manufacturing base," he said on Monday, noting government action on energy prices and procurement rules.
However, Roy Rickhuss, leader of the Community union, bemoaned Tory inaction, warning that Cameron should be tougher on Chinese imports to ensure he doesn’t preside over a complete unraveling of the industry.
"Everyone in the industry is clear that unfairly traded Chinese steel is the biggest contributor to the UK steel crisis and yet the Prime Minister and his Government are cheerleading for China in Europe. You can't wring your hands over steel job losses and then shake hands with the Chinese government over cosy trade deals."