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Tata crisis takes new twist

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THE UK GOVERNMENT is considering radical changes to the British Steel Pension Scheme in order to make TATA Steel’s UK holdings more attractive to potential buyers. The Govern ment has also raised the spectre of TATA continuing to own UK steel plants, including works at Trostre and Port Talbot.

However, the controversial changes, which are being considered by Business Secretary Sajid Javid, would be particular to Tata’s pension scheme and would not be more broadly applied.

Tata has claimed that the deficit in the pension scheme it inherited from British Steel is making it more difficult to offload its steel-making operations in the UK.

In response, Mr Javid has started a public consultation aimed at those who work in steel-making communities and those concerned in paying into the Pension Protection Levy that protects pensioners of bankrupt schemes.

THE BIDS

The deadline for potential buyers to make formal bids closed on Monday, but Tata has not revealed how many bids it received for its UK operations.

At First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday, Carwyn Jones observed that although the Excalibur bid had considerable technical expertise, it was yet to raise funding. He has suggested that two of the bidders, Liberty and Excalibur, pool their resources – financial, technical, and managerial – to present a combined bid, a solution known to be favoured by the UK Government.

THE PROPOSAL

The consultation document states that: ‘The exceptionality of the situation means that we need to think seriously about all possible options.

‘The legislative and parliamentary process is also such that, in order to have changes to regulations in place if that is what is required to enable a satisfactory resolution for steel production, the Government needs to start the consultation process in before the hope of any deal is confirmed’.

It continues to state: ‘The financial situation of the British Steel Pension Scheme is not responsible for the wider issues in the British steel industry.

“However, the scheme does itself give rise to issues that need to be resolved as a part of any long-term viable solution for Tata’s steelmaking operations in the UK and to provide clarity and security to the members of the British Steel Pension Scheme. The Scheme has therefore asked the Government to look into various options that would increase its chances of a sustainable future’.

‘NO DECISION HAS BEEN MADE’

Mr Javid stressed that: “No decision has been made. We are wary of setting a precedent. This is very much about this scheme and this scheme only, in very unique circumstances.”

One option under discussion is to base the scheme’s annual increase on the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation measure, which is usually below the Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure currently used.

This is the path favoured by the British Steel Pensions Scheme as they say it would leave most of the pension holders either better off or no worse off, compared with entering the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), which is the likely alternative.

On Tuesday (May 24). hundreds of steelworkers from across the country demand the government firstly ensure the responsible sale of Tata Steel’s UK assets and secondly deliver a proper industrial strategy that supports the entire steel sector throughout the current crisis and into a profitable future.

UNIONS WELCOME CONSULTATION

The steel trade unions – Community, Unite and GMB – have been in dialogue with the UK Government and Tata Steel for a number of weeks to secure a sustainable future for the steel industry. A number of bidders have made it clear that the British Steel Pension Scheme (BSPS) presents a major challenge to any sale.

A statement from the Community Trade Union said: ‘We fully understand the great importance of this pension scheme to both current and former steelworkers and steel communities across the UK.

‘There has been a lot of speculation that any sale of Tata’s assets would involve the BSPS going into the Pension Protection Fund (PPF). The trade unions believe that such a move would be an unmitigated disaster.

‘The PPF is a financial safety net but it would see every member of the scheme take an unnecessary cut in pension benefits. The financial health of the BSPS is such that going into the PPF can certainly be avoided.

‘We welcome the announcement of a government consultation on the future of the BSPS and the trade unions will of course make a full submission in due course. It is important that all stakeholders continue to explore all available options that avoid the need for the scheme to go into the PPF, which would be the worst deal for scheme members.

SAFEGUARDS NECESSARY

‘We need to ensure that there are cast iron safeguards in place so this unique situation does not result in employers dodging their pensions’ responsibilities’.

The Union statement continues: ‘It is important to remember that Tata Steel remains the employer and sponsor of the BSPS. They have significant legal, social and moral responsibilities with regards to the British steel industry and those men and women who have worked and continue to work within it’.

On BBC News, one pension expert, Tom McPhail from Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “The potential deal on British Steel could rip a hole in one of the most fundamental principles of pension provision. It is wellestablished that pension benefits, once granted, cannot be taken away.”

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Llanelli becomes a Covid-19 ‘health protection zone’

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RESIDENTS in a large part of Llanelli are being put under new local restrictions in a ‘health protection zone’ following a rapid increase in Covid-19 cases in the area.

The town is seeing a concentrated spread of cases compared with other parts of Carmarthenshire – in the last seven days, 85 positive cases have been identified in Llanelli (151.6 per 100,000 of the population) compared to 24 cases in the rest of Carmarthenshire (18.1 per 100,000 of the population).*

Public Health Wales officials are expecting numbers to continue rising over the coming week.

Carmarthenshire County Council and Hywel Dda University Health Board have worked with the Welsh Government and Public Health Wales to agree the temporary restrictions at sub-county level to try and halt the spread of the virus.

As of 6pm on Saturday September 26, 2020, residents living in defined parts of Llanelli will not be able to visit anyone else’s home, or accept visitors into their home, unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ such as providing care for a vulnerable person.

They should not arrange to meet indoors with anyone who they don’t live with, and travel in and out of the ‘health protection zone’ will also be limited – people should not leave the area or travel into the area unless it is essential. Travelling in and out of the zone for a holiday is not considered a reasonable excuse.

People are being asked to wear face coverings anywhere where they cannot maintain a two-metre distance from other people, including collecting children from school, in addition to the rules which already require them to wear a face covering in indoor spaces like shops and on public transport.

All indoor and outdoor visits to residential care homes have also been suspended.

Students may still travel into and out of the ‘health protection zone’ to go to school or college.

People living in the defined area of Llanelli must work from home, and employers must take all reasonable steps to support staff to do so.

Indoor public spaces such as leisure centres should only be used by people living in the defined area.

Shops will remain open, but people living outside the defined area of Llanelli should avoid travelling to visit them and shop in their own locality wherever possible.

The specific wards covered in the defined area of Llanelli are:

  • Bigyn
  • Bynea
  • Dafen
  • Elli
  • Felinfoel
  • Glanymor
  • Hendy
  • Hengoed
  • Llangennech
  • Lliedi
  • Llwynhendy
  • Tyisha
  • Swiss Valley

Although the pattern of increased positive cases is overwhelmingly concentrated in the Llanelli area where the restrictions have been strengthened, the whole of Carmarthenshire has now been put on alert, with a warning that the tighter restrictions may be extended if cases continue to spread.

Everyone – including those in the defined areas of Llanelli – is being urged to follow the national guidance around social distancing, good hygiene, self-isolation, testing and face coverings.

Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, Cllr Emlyn Dole, said: “It is worrying to see how sharply the number of positive cases has risen in the Llanelli area, and action has had to be taken to help stop the spread and break the chain of infections concentrated in this area to prevent a whole county lockdown.

“We must all do the right thing, follow the advice and protect each other. In parts of Llanelli, we’re asking people and businesses to make even greater sacrifices – we fully appreciate the impact this will have, but there is no other way. We must stop the spread.”

A mobile testing unit has been set up in Llanelli to manage the increased demand by local residents who have any of the Covid-19 symptoms – either a high temperature, a change or loss to taste or smell or a new continuous cough.

Reporting of positive cases in the town is fully expected to rise during the next two weeks with the increase in more targeted testing. But this is a positive indicator that cases are being identified and control measures put in place.

Chair of Hywel Dda University Health Board Maria Battle said: “Our local community has given us such tremendous support during the past few months. To protect the health of our people, including the most vulnerable, and to ensure our NHS resources are available to provide people with the care they need; we need the help of our Llanelli population and wider community now more than ever before. Whilst hospital admissions have not yet increased again for COVID cases, we have seen a sharp rise in positive cases in the community, and in time this is likely to have an impact on hospital admissions. The very best way we can support each other and those we love, is to follow local restrictions, minimise our contacts, practice good hygiene and self-isolate and book a test if we have any COVID-19 symptoms.”

Increased testing capacity for residents in Llanelli is available by appointment at the following locations:

  • Parc y Scarlets Car Park B, accessed via Trostre Retail Park, in Llanelli
  • The Ty’r Nant site (next to KFC), Trostre, Llanelli
  • The Carmarthen showground (signposted in both directions off the A40)

There should be no reason for Llanelli residents to travel excessive distances for a test, as there will be tests available in Llanelli and Carmarthen. Tests should be booked via the UK Portal. Any Llanelli residents experiencing difficulty booking a test locally via the UK portal can instead email covidenquiries.hdd@wales.nhs.uk or by calling 0300 333 2222.

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Tir Coed build outdoor classroom for Cross Hands Primary

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The local charity Tir Coed teamed up with Cross Hands Primary School to design and install a locally grown woodland shelter to enable primary school pupils to benefit from outdoor lessons-even when
the rain pours!

Last year Cross Hands Primary School received funding from Carmarthenshire is Kind for their intergenerational project. The project brought the schoolchildren together with older people in the community. Through intergenerational activities, everyone involved increases social connectedness, reduces social isolation, learns from one another and has a great time!

Before the lockdown, Tir Coed was contracted to lead a group mainly made up of parents from the school on a shelter-building course. The attendees would gain knowledge and skills and the children and the older people would be able to use the shelter, a third generation now included in this
fantastic project. The plans, however, had to change due to restrictions and in an effort to have it ready for the children when they returned to school, three intrepid Activity Leaders braved the wet August weather to build the beautiful shelter .

Studies have shown that being in the outdoors significantly reduces the risk of spreading the Corona Virus. With this addition to their already impressive outdoor area, it is hoped that more learning can
take place outside the classroom. Deputy Head, Emma Walters said, “It looks amazing! I am very impressed with the shelter and I cannot thank Tir Coed enough for organising this. Additional covered space in the outdoors will mean that we can take more learning into our lovely nature
area.”

If you would like to find out more about the work of Tir Coed or have a project you would like our help with you can contact Nancy, the Carmarthenshire Coordinator: carms@tircoed.org.uk

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Local sailor taking on virtual London marathon

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A local sailor based in the Falkland Islands will be taking on the Virtual London Marathon this October to raise money for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity.

Curtis Bowen, 24, from Llanelli, South Wales, was due to take on the London Marathon for SSAFA this April, but following the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown, the race was cancelled. 

Fortunately, the London Marathon team created the Virtual London Marathon in its place, allowing runners to take on the challenge virtually alongside thousands of other runners on the 4th October.

Curtis said: “It was a shame that the London Marathon couldn’t go ahead as planned in April, but I think it is amazing that I am still able to partake whilst being in the Falkland Islands. I’m the first person to ever run the London Marathon in the Falkland Islands.”  

Curtis is currently serving in the Royal Navy, as a Leading Supply Chain Logistician, and has served for four years. His Father also served in the Royal Navy for twenty-three years.

The live virtual event on Sunday 4th October will invite runners to run the London Marathon in their own way, joining up to 45,000 runners up and down the country – and across the world – in the virtual 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon, The 40th Race.

Curtis decided to raise money for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity after being an avid supporter of the charity and being inspired by his Father, Andrew, who raised over £6,000 for SSAFA. 

I chose to run the London Marathon for SSAFA to challenge myself and raise awareness for a great cause. My younger brother sadly took his own life a couple of years ago and I know that SSAFA are there to support those struggling with their Mental Health. I want to raise as much money as I can to support those struggling within the Armed Forces community.”

“My Father was also supposed to be running the London Marathon this year, but will now be completing the challenge virtually, alongside my brother, Luke, 12,000km away in South Wales.”

If you would like to support Curtis, please visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Andrew-Bowen-London-marathon2020

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