Intervention follows extraordinary row between departments over support
The cabinet minister made a formal request to Rishi Sunak’s department for support to energy intensive industries on Monday amid growing calls for emergency assistance and warnings many jobs in the sector could be lost.
A government source told The Independent that BEIS (Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy) had submitted a formal plan to Rishi Sunak’s department – but details of the proposals were not immediately clear.
Mr Kwarteng, who held talks with the industry last week, is understood to be continuing with one-to-one discussions with business leaders this week.
It follows an extraordinary row between the two departments over the weekend, with Mr Kwarteng accused of “making things up” during broadcast interviews, after suggesting the Treasury had been involved with talks over support.
But on Monday, No 10 rowed in behind the business secretary, insisting cross-government work — involving the Treasury — was ongoing.
“This is a significant challenge, and there’s work across government to mitigate it,” the prime minister’s official spokesperson said.
They declined to elaborate on whether “mitigations” would include financial support, saying: “I’m not going to jump ahead of any future conversations.
“It’s right that we continue to listen carefully to what industry are saying and have talks across government about whether any action is needed to mitigate the challenges.”
Conservative frontbencher Lord Agnew also said on Monday that soaring energy costs were nothing to do with supply shortages, but were due to a “geopolitical move” by Russia to put pressure on Europe. The Treasury minister’s appeared to go further than the government has gone before in pointing the finger directly at Moscow for the current crisis.
“The current squeeze on gas prices is nothing to do with the quantity of gas available,” he told peers in the House of Lords. It is a geopolitical move by Russia to put pressure on Europe and we are caught up in that. Public ownership of our own utilities would make no difference.”
Earlier, in a letter to Mr Sunak, his opposite number Labour’s Rachel Reeves, urged the Treasury to support energy intensive industries, and accused the chancellor of being “missing in action” over the crisis.
“A temporary increase in energy prices must not mean great industries like steel, ceramics, glass, paper and chemicals disappear, just because they happen to be intensive users of energy,” the shadow chancellor said.
Urging the government to “get an immediate grip” on the situation, she added: “Turning our backs on them would mean losing almost half a million jobs. It would mean ripping out the foundations underpinning the wider UK economy, holding back jobs and growth for years to come.
“It would be terrible value for money, as we would have to turn to expensive imports to meet our needs for the goods these sectors produce.
“At this crucial time, government ministers should be working together to fight for British jobs and industries, rather than fighting each other.”