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Thousands of steel jobs at risk as lender collapses

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GREENSILL CAPITAL has this filed for administration, potentially putting at risk thousands of jobs in the UK steel industry, including jobs in Wales.

On Monday (Mar 8), lawyers for the bank, which is one of the main sources of funding for steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta’s business empire, appeared before a UK court today, the FT reported.

Unions are seeking urgent talks with steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta over the future of his operations in the UK with its main financial backer having now filed for administration in the UK.

Mr Gupta, who lives in Monmouthshire, has over the last few years acquired a string of steel and aluminium interests globally with the backing of supply chain lender Greensill, which is understood to have provided him £3bn.

According to court documents, Greensill has “fallen into severe financial distress” and can no longer pay off its debts.

As a result, US investor Apollo Global Management could now sweep in and buy up some of the firm’s businesses.

Accountants Grant Thornton said that it had been appointed as Greensill’s administrator.

In a statement, it added that in was in “continued discussion with an interested party in relation to the purchase of certain Greensill Capital assets.”
“As these discussions remain ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”, it added.

The collapse marks a rapid downfall for the firm, which counted former PM David Cameron among its advisers.

The supply chain finance specialist was thrown into disarray last week when its insurance provider refused to renew a $4.6bn contract.

Shortly thereafter, lender Credit Suisse froze $10bn of funds linked to the firm, leaving it perilously short of cash.

With Gupta’s GFG Alliance believed to be heavily exposed to the firm, the collapse could have a devastating affect on the UK steel industry.

Up to 5,000 jobs at GFG and subsidiary Liberty Steel could be at risk, with union officials set for crisis talks with the firm tomorrow.

“Sanjeev Gupta needs to tell us exactly what the administration means for Liberty’s UK businesses and how he plans to protect jobs”, union Community said in a statement.

“The future of Liberty’s strategic steel assets must be secured and we are ready to work with all stakeholders to find a solution.”

It was also reported that business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng met with Liberty Steel’s chief executive John Ferriman yesterday.

Nicknamed the “saviour of steel”, Gupta had previously snapped up a number of steel assets in the UK despite uncertainty over the future of the industry.

Liberty Steel currently owns nine steelworks sites in the UK, which employ around 3,000 people. 2,000 more staff work for engineering firms connected to the industry.

Reacting to the announcement of possible steel job losses at Liberty Steel, Newport and other sites, the Shadow Minister for Economy, Business and Infrastructure, Russell George MS, said: “This announcement, of course, will undoubtedly cause anxiety for workers and their families.
“So, first and foremost, the most important aim now is for dialogue to ensue, in a bid for a solution to be found.
“Steelworkers in Wales have a brilliant reputation for creating high-quality products and I truly hope a solution can be reached.”

But a spokesperson for the company said that the firm was currently running as normal.
“Our operations are running as normal and our core businesses continue to benefit from strong market conditions generating robust sales and cash flows”, they said.
“Our operational efficiency programme has improved profitability and we are making progress in our discussions with financial institutions that can help diversify our funding. We are keeping our employees up to date and will provide further updates as we deliver our plans.”

Mike Hill, Labour MP fo Hartlepool, where one of Liberty’s steelworks is, said: “Liberty Steel is a major employer in Hartlepool, manufacturing bespoke Pipes for use by the offshore oil and gas industry.
“The company has also been identified as a key player in the Government’s plan for a Freeport in Teesside and Hartlepool. The last thing our local economy needs in these difficult times is for the business to go under and urgent intervention from Ministers will be needed if there are any signs of that happening.”

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M&S opticians opens its doors in Llanelli Parc Trostre

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MARKS & SPENCER has opened the newest branch of its M&S Opticians service, located in the retailer’s popular Llanelli store.

M&S Llanelli Parc Trostre will offer customers an expert opticians service, which includes a full eye health examination (OCT scan) for every eye test booked at no additional fee.

Free eye tests are available as an opening offer, as well as 15% off glasses and sunglasses for Sparks customers. There’s a wide range of designer brands to choose from including Mulberry, Prada, Joules, Kate Spade, Oakley, Police, Maui Jim along with leading lens manufacturers – Zeiss and Nikon.

Expert advice on contact lens fitting and wearing is also on hand, alongside a contact lens home delivery option. The store will also be home to a hearing aid audiologist who will be offering free hearing health checks along with latest hearing aid technology, including rechargeable models and mobile connectivity.

In addition to the physical experience in-store, customers can book appointments online here, as well as view, purchase and try on glasses via the innovative ‘virtual try on’ tool here

M&S Llanelli Parc Trostre is the second optician service to open in Wales following a successful trial across ten UK cities, during which the service received a customer satisfaction rate of 96% and a customer recommendation rate of 96%.

M&S Llanelli Parc Trostre Store Manager, Aled Bonnell, said: “We’re always looking for ways to make shopping at M&S even more rewarding and feedback from our trial showed that customers loved the convenience of having an Opticians service in our store. We’re really excited to be opening our M&S Opticians in Llanelli and hearing what our customers think. The choice of different brands we’re offering is second to none and we have brilliant opening offers to suit all budgets.”

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Public advised to avoid rail travel as biggest strike in 30 years about to start

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THE BIGGEST rail strikes in three decades are due to start on Monday night (Jun 20), bar an unlikely late breakthrough in talks, with trains cancelled across Great Britain for much of the week.

Talks between senior rail industry figures and union leaders were taking place through the day to try to avoid industrial action, although with little optimism from either side or government that any agreement could be reached.

The first of three 24-hour walkouts by 40,000 RMT members, including signallers, maintenance and train staff, will start just after midnight on Tuesday morning, with only one in five trains running on strike days and halting services altogether in much of northern and south-west England, Wales and Scotland.

Only four rail routes will be operating in Wales on the three strike days and at a reduced service. Services will start at 7am and stop at 6pm.

These include:
• An hourly service between Radyr and Treherbert
• An hourly service between Radyr and Aberdare
• An hourly service between Radyr and Merthyr Tydfil (apart from on Saturday, June 25, when it’s between Radyr and Pontypridd)
• Reduced services on the mainline between Cardiff and London from 7am to 6pm. The last train from London is at 4.27pm.

Major train stations including Swansea, Bridgend, Carmarthen, Llanelli, Aberystwyth, Holyhead and Llandudno will have no services. There will only be limited services from Cardiff, Newport, Pontypridd and stations on the Valley lines to Merthyr, Aberdare and Treherbert.

Full details of the timetable for the days of the strike have been published.

Customers can find these on the TfW, Traveline and National Rail websites using the journey planners.

Customers with existing non-season tickets valid for travel from Tuesday 21 June to Saturday 25 June can use those tickets anytime between Monday 20 June and Monday 27 June. Alternatively, customers can claim a full refund, with no admin fee charged. Season ticket holders can apply for compensation via Delay Repay.

In the meantime, TfW has suspended sales of Advance tickets for the first three strike dates in order to minimise the number of people disrupted. Customers are advised to continue to check the TfW or Traveline websites, and those of other operators, for updates.
Transport for Wales says passengers should not travel by train during the three strike days on June 21, 23 and 25. There are no strikes on June 20, 22, 24 and 26 but Transport for Wales said people should only travel if essential as services would still be affected.

Staff working for Transport for Wales are not affected by the strike. But RMT staff working for Network Rail which manages the infrastructure across the UK are going on strike meaning that services across the UK are all affected.

Only services in Transport for Wales routes in one part of the Valleys and services on the mainline into Wales from London going as far as Cardiff will be operating. There will be no services west of Cardiff.

The strikes, over pay and attempts to reform the rail industry with post-Covid work patterns hitting commuter revenues, will cause six days of disruption, with trains limited to one an hour between 7.30am and 6.30pm on major intercity and urban routes. Services will start later and be reduced on subsequent days.

Trains will be at a standstill (Image Herald)

The action is being taken by Network Rail employees and onboard and station staff working for 13 train operators in England. The RMT said thousands of jobs were at risk in maintenance roles and that ticket office closures were planned, on top of pay freezes during a time of high inflation.

The walkout by signallers will have most impact, particularly in rural areas, leading to line closures in places such as Wales, where there is no direct dispute with the train operator. Most operators have told passengers to travel only if necessary on strike days. Northern Rail has advised passengers not to travel for the whole week.

While Conservatives have attempted to associate the union-backed Labour party with the strikes, Labour has pointed out that the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, and other ministers have refused to take part in talks.

Unions asked to meet ministers, saying the Treasury and Department for Transport control contracts and funding. Shapps said it was up to employers to negotiate, although train operating companies have been told they cannot offer pay rises, according to industry insiders and unions.

The shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, speaking on the BBC Today programme on Monday, said it was imperative that the government stepped in. She said: “Not only are they boycotting the talks, they are actually hobbling them .”

However, Simon Clarke, the chief secretary to the Treasury, told the BBC: “There’s no point giving false hope, if you like, that these strikes can be avoided. At this stage it is likely that they will proceed.”

The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, is set to table legislation to allow agency workers to step in during strikes, which could be enacted by late July to apply to future industrial action. The RMT said it would be impossible to draft in people to replace skilled rail workers and a spokesperson said it was “playing to the gallery”.

Shapps said on Sunday it was “crazy” to suggest that the Tories wanted rail unions to go on strike, after Labour accused the government of encouraging the walkouts to go ahead in order to stoke division. He said the strikes were “unnecessary” and a result of trade union leaders “gunning for” a fight, accusing the RMT of planning to “punish millions of innocent people”.

Last week, Shapps told rail staff they risked “striking yourself out of a job”. Network Rail bosses estimate the stoppages will cost the industry about £150m in lost revenue.

Talks have been ongoing between Network Rail and the RMT but bosses admitted there was little hope of a breakthrough.

The walkouts are on 21, 23 and 25 June and a special timetable will be in operation from Monday, with some evening services curbed, until Sunday. About 20% of trains will run on mainlines and urban areas.

Adding to the commuter misery, a separate London Underground strike will also bring much of the capital’s transport to a halt on Tuesday. About 10,000 members of the RMT will walk out for 24 hours, closing most tube lines. Transport for London has advised people to avoid travelling on all of its services if possible, with buses likely to be crowded and slow on jammed roads.

The London overground and Elizabeth lines will also continue to be affected by the national rail strike throughout the week.

Other unions may join the rail strike later in the summer, in a move that could halt services altogether. The TSSA union, which represents control room staff and managers who step in to run contingency signalling, is balloting members at Network Rail and announced strike votes at more train operators last week.

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AA: “We would urge drivers at the moment to cut out shorter car journeys”

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THE AA has urged drivers to try and “cut out shorter car journeys” in a bid to save money.

The price of filling an average family car with petrol has reached £100 for the first time this week.

The RAC has said it was a “truly dark day today for drivers” as figures from data firm Experian Catalist show the average price of a litre of petrol at UK forecourts reached a record 182.3p.

On Thursday the average cost of filling a 55-litre family car to £100.27.

AA president Edmund King told PA: “This is the worst week of pump pain so far for drivers.”

“We would urge drivers at the moment to cut out shorter car journeys if they are able to do so, and walk or cycle to save money.”

“Almost one fifth of AA members are already doing this.”

“But by changing your driving style you can also save up to 15% on fuel costs.”

“These crippling fuel costs are hitting home so drivers need to take all the steps they can to stay mobile.”

RAC fuel spokesperson Simon Williams said on Thursday: “With average prices so high – 182.31p for a litre of unleaded and 188.05p for diesel – there’s almost certainly going to be upward inflationary pressure which is bad news for everybody.

“While fuel prices have been setting new records on a daily basis, households up and down the country may never have expected to see the cost of filling an average-sized family car reach three figures.

“With RAC research showing as many as eight-in-10 depend on their cars many must be wondering if any further financial support from the Government will be forthcoming.”
He added: “March’s 5p fuel duty cut now looks paltry as wholesale petrol costs have already increased by five-times that amount since the Spring Statement (25p).

“A further duty cut or a temporary reduction in VAT would go a long way towards helping drivers, especially those on lower incomes who have no choice other than to drive.”

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