TATA STEEL is set to announce that their entire UK operation will be put up for sale, putting thousands of jobs in south and west Wales at risk.
Aberavon MP Stephen Kinnock, who travelled to Mumbai to lobby the Tata Board ahead of a meeting to decide the plant’s fate on Tuesday (Mar 29), has indicated that the survival plan put forward by Unions was rejected.
In an interview with the BBC, Mr Kinnock suggested that the company’s European Board would now be instructed to ‘look at all options’ for the future of the plant, including looking for a buyer.
Responding to as yet unconfirmed reports that Tata Steel plans to divest of its remaining UK assets, Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of the steelworkers’ trade union Community, said:
“We travelled to Mumbai to secure a future for steelmaking in south Wales and we are disappointed that the future remains uncertain, not just for Welsh steelworkers but for thousands more workers in Tata’s businesses elsewhere in the UK. However, our worst fear that Tata would announce plant closures today has not been realised. This is testament to the skills, experience and passion of UK steelworkers. They are a world class asset and now it seems other investors will have the opportunity to continue generations of world class steel production.
“We will of course wait to see the detail of Tata’s divestment plans but, as we said before, it is vitally important that Tata is a responsible seller of its businesses and provides sufficient time to find new ownership. There is also a crucial role for both the Welsh and UK governments to do all they can to ensure a future for Tata’s remaining UK steel businesses and to provide every assistance to secure a buyer that will continue steel making. We don’t want just want more warm words, we want a detailed plan of action to find buyers and build confidence in potential investors in UK steel.
“We set out to save our steel in South Wales. We told Tata in no uncertain terms that there must not be an end to UK steel making. Our campaign has now broadened to saving Tata’s remaining UK assets and securing a future for UK steel making and Community as the steelworkers’ union will not give up on that future.”
Unions had previously supported a survival plan for the Port Talbot works, which aimed to turn around a £300m annual loss within two years. This would have led to a further plan, which called for £1bn of extra investment necessary to make the plant viable in the long-term.
Tata employs around 5,000 people directly in the Port Talbot area, and thousands more jobs are indirectly dependant on steel operations continuing. The Trostre operation, which employs almost 700 people, and the plant at Llanwern, could also be affected, although it is thought that these would be more viable in the current economic climate. It is not thought that any companies have expressed any interest at this early stage, although Liberty, which is in the process of taking over a steel operation in Lanarkshire, has previously indicated that it could increase its holdings in the industry.
However, as Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price pointed out this weekend, Tata may be unwilling to sell to a rival, because this would lead to unwanted competition for their Dutch operation.
Writing for the Sunday Times ahead of the meeting on Tuesday, Mr Price suggested that temporary nationalisation could be a solution:
“Temporary nationalisation – compulsory purchase to allow the site to be re-sold to a private buyer, sometimes known as ‘conservatorship’ – would certainly be permissible under EU law which only prevents anti-competitive State Aid. This would be a case of Government trying to preserve competition, rather than the desire to shrink steel capacity into an ever narrower base that is driving commercial decisions currently in the European steel industry – the so-called ‘last man standing’ strategy.”
Mr Price also took the opportunity to criticise the Westminster Government over delays to the Wales Bill, which could have put the powers for temporary nationalisation in the hands of the Welsh Government:
“Intriguingly, under the Draft Wales Bill recently withdrawn by the Wales Office, the Welsh Government would have had the legal power for a pro-tem compulsory nationalisation itself – as confirmed recently by the House of Commons Library. But that is now at least a year away from the Statute Book. Under the current legal framework it would need UK Government support. However that support would probably be enough to create the moral persuasion necessary for Tata to agree a reasonable timescale for a prospective buyer to be found.”
Following the claims that Tata would sell its UK operation, Mr Price told The Herald that ‘it remains to be clear what exactly Tata Steel Europe will decide in relation to Port Talbot’.
“If there was the prospect of closing without a sale then a temporary nationalisation would be necessary,” he added. “Similarly if Tata proposed an unrealistic timetable to find a buyer. I think that a public private joint venture of some kind will be necessary to fund the investment needed to create a sustainable steel industry. This could be a mix of equity and loans, but will need to be substantial to attract a private sector investor. UK government support is essential though the Welsh Government role is also important for Welsh plants.”
The Welsh and UK Governments issued a joint statement on Tuesday night (Mar 29): “This is a difficult time for workers in Port Talbot and across the UK. During the review process, we remain committed to working with Tata and the unions on a long term sustainable future for British steel making.
“Both the Welsh and UK governments are working tirelessly to look at all viable options to keep a strong British steel industry at the heart of our manufacturing base.”
First Minister Carwyn Jones also added a personal message: “I want the Welsh steelworkers and their families to know that no stone will be left unturned in our bid to support you through what comes,” he said.
“Whilst we have serious disagreements with the UK government on many issues at the moment, we will work with them, and anyone else, who can help to secure a sustainable steel industry in Wales.
“Wales has faced up to tough times before, and we will always stand in solidarity with our brilliant, skilled workforce and with our communities.”
Shadow Secretary of State for Wales Nia Griffith said that she was ‘extremely worried’ by the news:
“I am very, very worried indeed. Tata are very serious business people. They have a great deal of good will towards the UK, and if they are saying that they cannot see a future then it is not easy to see who will actually want to buy the plants,” she added.
“They have invested a huge amount and it is clear that the Chancellor has dealt a hammer blow to the industry back in 2010 with the Carbon Tax set at far too high a rate. The steel industry has pleaded over the last few years to try and get the mitigation that they need. Unfortunately the Chancellor has absolutely dragged his feet on this. It really does look now that it is all too little too late. It is going to be very hard to find a purchaser, and that’s what really worries me.
“The UK Government needs to put in a lot more help, both in terms of the compensation package for energy-intensive industries, and to be a lot more robust in keeping at bay the Chinese imports that are being dumped here; very cheap, under cost-price products. It’s a really toxic mix. Unless the Government pulls its finger out in terms of creating that level playing field then it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to take on the industry even if they have, as they do in Port Talbot, have the latest state of the art equipment.”
Meanwhile, senior Assembly Members led calls for the Assembly to be recalled. Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies said: “It’s quite clear that the Assembly must now be recalled prior to dissolution, and I note that William Graham, in his capacity as Chair, has also called for an emergency session of the Business & Enterprise Committee.
“Back in February I wrote to the other party leaders to assess support for a cross-party delegation to meet the commissioner in Brussels to discuss the issue of Chinese steel dumping, and it’s vital that we speak with one voice in the fight to secure a viable future for Welsh steel.
“Above all, the workers and sub-contractors at Tata want to see every possible avenue investigated, both to ensure a successful sale and to secure a sustainable future for the industry in Wales. This issue goes above party politics and all parties will have to work together to achieve this.
“Action being taken by the UK Government to address energy prices is welcome, and I would also urge the Welsh Labour Government to bring forward their plans to reform business rates and give consideration to amending procurement rules to ensure that Wales is a competitive environment for steel.”
Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood also called for the National Assembly to be recalled.
Ms Wood called on all parties in Wales to set their political differences aside and to work together in order to secure the future of the plant and, crucially, the thousands of jobs which depend on it.
She added that while the news of a sale is better than closure, urgent action was needed to end the continued risks and uncertainty surrounding the fate of the Port Talbot plant.
Ms Wood said: “If it proves to be true that Tata intends to sell the Port Talbot steelworks, politicians from all parties and from within the Welsh and UK governments must work together to secure the future of the plant.
“The priority now must be to seek out a reliable potential buyer to ensure that the highly-skilled workforce at Port Talbot can continue to produce world-class steel.
“The National Assembly is currently in recess but must be recalled in order for all parties in Wales to coordinate a political response focused on safeguarding the future of this vital industry.
“Losing this plant would be a devastating blow to the whole steel industry and to the Welsh economy. We are still living with the effects of losing the coal industry in the eighties.
“Continued risk and uncertainty is unacceptable. Any further action must be decisive and proactive, and we must continue to fight tooth and nail to protect Tata workers and their jobs. They deserve nothing less.”
Liberal Democrat Peter Black, Assembly Member for South Wales West, has e-mailed the First Minister calling on him to request the Presiding Officer reconvenes the Assembly on a matter of urgent public importance.
The Assembly’s Standing Order 12.3 states: “If no plenary meeting is timetabled for a particular date or time, the Presiding Officer may, at the request of the First Minister, summon the Assembly to consider a matter of urgent public importance.”
Mr Black said: “If true, these reports are truly devastating and our thoughts go out to Tata employees and their families.
“This is clearly a matter of urgent public importance and therefore it is inconceivable that the Assembly doesn’t reconvene.
“Ministers in both governments need to act fast. Simply holding up their hands and saying they are out of ideas is simply not good enough.
“For years the Welsh Liberal Democrats have called for business rates to be reduced to support the steel industry, yet the Labour Government has sat on its hands offering nothing. Likewise, inaction from the Tory Government has been utterly unforgivable. Too much time has already been wasted and we need to see positive action now from both governments as well as further action to attract new investment to Port Talbot such as the creation of an urban development company.”
Plaid Cymru’s Llanelli candidate Helen Mary Jones said: “This is an uncertain time for steel workers in Llanelli and for the steel community across the UK, and my deepest sympathies go to the families affected by Tata’s announcement tonight.
“What we need now is decisive action from the Welsh Government. The First Minister should recall the National Assembly in order to coordinate a political response to this situation, and the Welsh Government should negotiate sufficient time to find an alternative investor for its sites in Wales. “And all options should be on the table for the Welsh Government in order to save our steel industry – that could include entering into a joint venture with the company. Wales has a long and proud history of steel production, and the steel industry could have a bright future in Wales, if it is given the right support.”
Laugharne Luxury Lodge plan hits pothole
THE OWNERS of a luxury lodge development in Laugharne face potential enforcement action from Carmarthenshire County Council. The company is alleged to have built a substantial roadway across fields near the development without planning permission.
Milkwood Spa, due to launch this autumn, is located on a site with a chequered planning history. It is located in a prominent position overlooking Carmarthen Bay and the village of Laugharne.
The current developers, UK Luxury Lodges, acquired the site from its previous owners after their attempts to get development going on the site stalled.
UK Luxury Lodges says the development will be the first resort of its kind in the region; welcoming guests after an investment upwards of £30 million.
Laugharne and nearby Pendine are popular tourist destinations, but with a track record of insecure, poorly paid employment. Speaking to us earlier this year Sharon Hurley, a director of the company behind the project, told us that she hoped the lodge and spa development would help create up to 110 new jobs in the area.
Past developments and proposals for developments have run into problems concerning their environmental impact and their effect on the local landscape.
A previous owner obstructed and extinguished a public footpath. The footpath was not relocated. No enforcement action took place over its loss.
Concerns also exist about the disturbance to a nearby scheduled monument and the area around the lodges and spa. Ironically for a project using the ‘Milkwood’ brand, developers have received local criticism for removing a significant number of mature trees to facilitate the development and damaging the landscape which is one of the locality’s chief selling points.
Issues of traffic, local parking solutions, heavy plant using residential roads, and blocked footpaths also exercise some residents.
Before we published our original article in August, we carried out an extensive search of the site’s planning history.
The County Council’s planning portal recorded no objections to the location’s development either when initial outline planning was granted for developing the location by its previous owner, or when it was acquired by the current owners in 2013 when reserved matters were dealt with under application number W/30157.
Concerning the wider conservation questions, one letter, about the linked application number W/33378, is blank on the Planning Portal.
We are assured, however, objections were raised.
A conservation area application had been submitted and approved and that the statutory consultees Cadw, Dyfed Archaeological Trust raised no objections to the development in so far as it affected the scheduled monument on the site.
When we questioned Ms Hurley about those prior concerns about development, she told us: “Creating a property that honours and celebrates the existing natural environment is so important to me and the team is working closely with local planning authorities to ensure the conservation of the surrounding historic environment.”
However, earlier this week, The Herald received a series of photos which show a permanent roadway being dug out across green fields. Machinery still being used on the works is plainly visible in some of the photos, as is the extent of the hardcore base and gravel laid over the top in some sections.
No planning permission exists for such development. Whether Carmarthenshire County Council, Cadw or the Dyfed Archaeological Trust would have been quite so supportive had they been aware of plans to dig a roadway across a green-field site in a prominent and sensitive landscape is open to question.
We asked Carmarthenshire County Council to comment on the roadway’s construction.
Head of Planning Llinos Quelch said: “We have been alerted to potentially unauthorised works on this site and we are dealing with it as an enforcement matter. Investigations will continue and appropriate action taken.”
Zoe Evans, Llanelli painter and decorator, is British Apprentice of the Year
Zoe Evans, a 21 year old painter and decorator from Llanelli, has been named the GB Apprentice of the Year and Welsh Apprentice of the Year at the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB)
The CITB Apprenticeship Awards celebrate the achievements of apprentices and employers across the UK for their commitment and dedication to construction.
The winners were presented with their awards at a ceremony hosted by broadcaster and property entrepreneur, Sarah Beeny. The ceremony took place at Merchant Taylors’ Hall in London (7 November).
Zoe completed a level 2 apprenticeship in painting and decorating, to go onto achieve her Advanced level 3. With her artistic flair, Zoe enjoys the creative aspects of her trade and plans to take a career route in interior design. Zoe’s amazing commitment to being the best she can, has attributed to her becoming an ambassador for women in construction and being the face of the posters across her college, Coleg Sir Gar.
Zoe said: “I’ve loved every single part of my apprentice journey, from the classroom learning to the practical application and the more creative aspects of the job. I want to thank my mentor, Ken MacKay and my employer Ian Williams Ltd. It’s a really good feeling to know that I’ve been
recognised in this way. I’d definitely recommend an apprenticeship to anyone willing to work hard, have goals and go full out to achieve them.”
Jon Davies, CITB Apprenticeship Officer, said: “When Zoe started her apprenticeship we saw her potential so we fast tracked her from level 1 to level 2. It was important for me to make sure she had the right support to reach the heights she is capable of, and she is doing just that. Zoe makes work a brighter place for everyone around her. Her positive attitude and ability makes her a perfect ambassador for women in construction, and I am really pleased this has been recognised with her award.”
Kevin Mcloughlin, CITB board member and founder and Managing Director of Mcloughlin Decorating, said: “Congratulations to Zoe, a clearly dedicated apprentice – it’s great to recognise her hard work. Apprenticeships provide a fast track route into the construction industry. With so many rewarding careers opportunities in construction there is something out there for everyone. I wish Zoe all the best in her career in construction.”
Police difuse hostage situation in Cae Glas
AT APPROXIMATELY 10.10pm on Wednesday (Nov 6) police were requested to attend at a property in Cae Glas, Felinfoel, in respect of threats being made by a man within the property to harm himself and a woman inside with a knife.
Officers were deployed immediately, and to ensure the safety of everyone at the scene firearms officers were also deployed.
Chief Inspector Stuart Bell said: “A specialist negotiator worked with the man for a number of hours, bringing the incident to a close at about 1.45am this morning, when the man surrendered himself and was arrested for an outstanding warrant.
“A woman at the scene was also arrested for obstructing police officers. No injuries have been reported.
“There is no threat or danger to anyone outside of the property in the area, and we can reassure residents that there is no need to be concerned as this was an isolated incident.”
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