Business Secretary Quasi Quarteng did not lie when he said there had been discussions between government departments about possible support for UK firms during the energy crisis, a senior minister insisted.
Mr Quarteng said on Sunday he was in talks with the Treasury and the energy industry to work out ways to help during the crisis.
However, officials from Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s department declined to hold talks with the trade department – with a Treasury source accusing Mr Quarteng of “making up things in the interview”.
Asked by Sky News whether the business secretary was “telling Porky”, Home Office Minister Damien Hinds replied: “Absolutely not.”
The security minister said: “The fact is that government departments, government ministers talk to each other the whole time and certainly this kind of issue.”
Labor accused the government of “squabbles” – but the Home Office minister said both Mr Quarteng and Mr Sunak were “focused” on the problems posed by rising global energy prices.
Mr Hinds also defended Boris Johnson’s decision to go to the Costa del Sol for vacation – claiming it was “important for the whole country” that the prime minister recharges his batteries.
Asked if now is the right time, the minister replied: “When is the right time? I think it is important that people have the opportunity to have some rest and relaxation with their families.”
He continued: “For the rest of us, really – for the whole country – what’s important is that the prime minister gets some family time, gets a break.”
Mr Hinds also rejected the idea of a four-day week for this winter. “We live in a country where the government doesn’t set a working week pattern,” he said.
“Thank God we don’t live in the 1970s,” the minister said – referring to the energy crisis, which forced businesses to limit their electricity use to three days a week and those days were longer. Banned operations till date.
Talks between the government and industry are set to continue on Monday, with manufacturing industries such as paper, steel and ceramics demanding energy price caps to help avoid factory closures.
Mr Quarteng said on Sunday he was confident the lights would stay on this winter, but also stressed that the government was “not in the business of bailouts.”
But Emma Pinchbeck, chief executive of Energy UK, warned that “exposed” businesses such as energy-intensive factories would be hit hardest by the rise in prices.
“We are expecting more retailers to go out of business this winter,” Ms Pinchbeck said.
UK Steel Director General Gareth Stace warned the government that failing to support the heavy industry “could cause long-term damage to the future of the steel industry”.
Mr Stace said he wanted the UK government to follow the lead taken by the Italian government, which has “incurred” some of the policy costs imposed on the industry. “When the government says, ‘we are not going to do any bailouts’, that is not what we are asking for,” he said.
Labor’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said the government was “fighting among themselves”, adding: “The government has nothing to do to help businesses or consumers deal with the crisis they are facing.”
Unite Secretary General Sharon Graham said industry leaders and ministers should work with unions to ensure no jobs are lost.
“I call on the prime minister to hold on to this crisis and bang heads together,” the union boss said. “The standoff between ministers and industry is irresponsible and threatens jobs and our recovery.”
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /