Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng did not lie when he said there were discussions between government departments about potential support for UK firms during the energy crisis, a senior minister has insisted.
Mr Kwarteng said on Sunday that he had been in talks with the Treasury and the energy industry to work out ways to help it through the crisis.
However, officials at chancellor Rishi Sunak’s department flatly denied having been in talks with the business department – with one Treasury source accusing Mr Kwarteng of “making things up in interviews”.
Asked by Sky News if the business secretary had been “telling porkies”, the Home Office minister Damian Hinds replied: “Of course not.”
The security minister added: “The fact is government departments, government ministers talk to each other the whole time and of course with an issue like this.”
Labour accused the government of “squabbling amongst itself” – but the Home Office minister said both the Mr Kwarteng and Mr Sunak were both “focussed” on the problems posed by rising global energy prices.
Mr Hinds also defended Boris Johnson’s decision to jet off to the Costa del Sol for a holiday – claiming it was “important for the whole country” that the prime minister recharges his batteries.
Asked if now was the right time, the minister replied: “When is the right time? I think it is important that people do have an opportunity to be with their families to have some relaxing, unwinding.”
He added: “What is important for the rest of us, actually – for the whole country – is that the prime minister does get to have some family time, does get to have a break.”
Mr Hinds also ruled out the idea of a four-day week to this winter. “We live in a country where the government doesn’t set the pattern of the working week,” he said.
“Thank God we don’t live in the 1970s,” the minister added – referring to the energy crisis which saw businesses forced to limit their electricity use to three days a week and banned from operating for long hours on those days.
Talks between the government and industry are set to continue on Monday, with manufacturing industries such as paper, steel and ceramics calling for an energy price cap to help avoid factory closures.
Mr Kwarteng said on Sunday that he is confident the lights will stay on this winter, but also insisted that the government is “not in the business of bailouts.”
But Energy UK chief executive Emma Pinchbeck warned that “exposed” businesses such as energy-intensive factories will be the worst hit 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 a failure to act to support heavy industry “may result in long-term damage to the future of the steel industry”.
Mr Stace added that he wants the UK government to follow the lead taken by the Italian government, who have “taken off” some policy costs applied to industry. “When government says, ‘We’re not going to do any bailouts’, that’s not what we’re asking for,” he said.
Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said the government was “squabbling amongst itself”, adding: “The government has nothing to offer businesses or consumers to help them with the crisis they are facing.”
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said industry chiefs and ministers should work with unions to ensure no jobs are lost.
“I call upon the prime minister to get a grip on this crisis and bang heads together,” said the union boss. “The stand-off between ministers and industry is irresponsible and threatens jobs and our recovery.”
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