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Thousands of jobs set to go at Tata steel

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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.”

 

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£121k watersports funding announced for Llanelli beauty spot

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• Welsh Water, Natural Resources Wales, Llanelli Rural Council & Canoe Wales has secured ‘Access to Water’ funding.

• Visitors will be able to enjoy paddlesports (canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding), windsurfing and angling.

• Site expected to attract 90k+ visitors a year.

The recent announcement of the development of the Swiss Valley reservoirs in Carmarthenshire has been given a boost with the confirmation of an ‘Access to Water’ grant from Welsh Government, worth £121k, that will enable visitor access to the Lower Lleidi reservoir for paddle sports and angling.

The funding will realise plans to bring back a range of paddlesports to the reservoir, including stand-up paddle boarding, canoeing and kayaking.  It will also enable bank angling through the creation of recreational zones.  A range of improvements to the surrounding infrastructure are also planned to include a boat wash for biosecurity and the creation of paths and a pontoon that allows easy access to water for people of all abilities, and the refurbishment of toilet facilities.

Developing the Swiss Valley Reservoirs is expected to attract 90k+ visitors a year to the site, in line with Covid19 regulations. The ‘Access to Water’ funding is an important milestone in achieving shared ambitions for the site, and to support the funding application, a survey of local canoe clubs, outdoor activity providers and anglers was conducted which found a strong demand for access to the water for their activities. The feedback was that this is likely to generate a huge amount of interest from clubs and providers given it’s ideal geographical location. The community adoption scheme means that local people are offering to invest their own time to help look after this jewel of a community asset, and care for it into the future.

The project is well placed to support the delivery of The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015, which requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change. Whilst Welsh Water is not a public body, it is committed to working in partnership with Llanelli Rural Council, Natural Resources Wales and Canoe Wales in the spirit of the legislation.

Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, said: “This is an excellent example of a scheme which increases opportunities for outdoor recreation and provides safe access to water for people of all abilities.  The development of these reservoirs will enable local people and visitors to gain more enjoyment from this beauty spot in line with covid19 guidelines and help to support a green recovery in Wales.  I hope the success of this project will encourage development of many more similar opportunities over the coming years.”

Welsh Water Chief Executive Peter Perry said, “Access to blue space is proven to be positively associated with health and wellbeing. Swiss Valley is an important asset for the local community and visitors alike. This funding is a major milestone in our efforts to bring this cherished community asset back to its former glory and make it more accessible, for the health and wellbeing of everyone.”

Jen Browning, Chief Executive of Canoe Wales, the national governing body for paddlesport in Wales, added, “Over the past eight months, we have seen an unprecedented amount of demand for canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, but the limited number of venues in Wales suitable for new paddlers has always been a major obstacle. This funding will ensure that Swiss Valley can play an enormously important role in making it possible for people of all abilities to enjoy the water, and for many to discover a passion for paddlesport and develop a deep connection with the outdoors.”

Dave MacCallum, Specialist Advisor for Water Access & Recreation at Natural Resources Wales and Chairman of NAFW Access to Water Sub-Group said: “We are delighted to have been a part of this important collaboration which will open up these new waters for responsible, inclusive recreation in South West Wales. NRW is committed to doing all we can to enable more people to enjoy Wales’ countryside more easily and responsibly – to take advantage of the many health and wellbeing benefits that getting outside can bring. Benefitting from bespoke disabled paddle-sport access facilities and a Biosecurity station promoting and enabling the Check Clean Dry initiative, the Swiss Valley reservoir project paves the way for future access to Welsh still waters so that current and future generations can continue to enjoy their visits to some of Wales’ most spectacular landscapes”

Llanelli Rural Council Leader, Cllr Tegwen Devichand said “the funding is marvellous news for the community and will enable the council to develop its plans for the reservoir in earnest. Much of the preliminary work associated with the first phase of infrastructure improvements can now get underway, in fact some work has commenced already. The physical adaptations to refurbish the toilet block, visitor car park and access to the water to facilitate paddle sports and the angling fraternity is scheduled to be completed by March 2021, but work won’t stop there. Moreover, the community response to our plans for the reservoir has been overwhelming; the council has received a great deal of local and regional support and a number of interest groups and individuals have come forward to help us deliver our plans as well as to offer their services. This is greatly appreciated and bodes well for the future.”

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Llanelli Yodel colleague celebrates 30-year anniversary

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Beverley Smith, a valued member of the Llanelli depot’s team, is celebrating her 30-year anniversary with UK independent parcel carrier, Yodel.

Beverley joined Yodel in 1990, when it was originally known as Home Shopping Network, as an Inbound Sorter and then moved onto a Customer Service Support role over 28 years ago. Beverly supports the Llanelli Management Team, provides customer service to clients and customers alike and is always on hand to answer any driver queries.

To celebrate her anniversary, Kay Dodd, Service Centre Manager, presented Beverley with £750 of Very vouchers and ordered in a cooked breakfast to celebrate.

Customer Service Support Advisor, Beverley Smith commented: “My time with Yodel has been very fulfilling – constantly challenging – keeping me on my toes. I’ve been with the company so long that I remember having to write with a pen and paper and have to fax documents to the head office daily – I can’t say I miss those days!

“I have made many close friends during the 30 years at the business and I truly have enjoyed the hard working and happy atmosphere at Llanelli every day.”

Kay Dodd, Depot Manager, added: “Bev is a valued member of my team here at Llanelli, she provides excellent customer service to customers, clients and colleagues. She has a courteous and caring attitude and goes beyond her duties to ensure everyone has a positive experience at Yodel Llanelli. Thank you for everything Bev!”

To join Beverley and the team at Yodel’s Llanelli depot, or to find out more about working for Yodel, and the roles and training available, visit www.yodelopportunities.co.uk or text ‘Deliver’ to 84433. 

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Preparatory works to start at key Stepney Street Building

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Preparatory works are due to start on a key building in Llanelli Town Centre ahead of formal planning approval.

Number 49 Stepney Street is being redeveloped as part of a significant investment in the town centre to transform, regenerate and connect its key retails and leisure areas.

Carmarthenshire County Council has submitted plans which could see the former YMCA building retain much of its character whilst providing high quality living space and commercial units

The works would include the restoration of the front façade of the building, along with the retention of the perimeter wall, main internal structural walls and bringing back many original features such as the ornate staircase.

Subject to planning approval the rest of the building would be redeveloped to include two floors of commercial space on the ground and first floors, with eight two-bedroomed living spaces on the upper floors.

There will also be residents parking spaces on the ground floor.

The works currently underway will prepare the building for redevelopment and include stripping and clearance of old materials.

Carmarthenshire County Council leader Cllr Emlyn Dole said: “Many generations of people from Llanelli will have special memories of using this fantastic building over the years and it is such a shame to see it lay empty and falling into disrepair – we’re proud to be leading on this scheme to breathe new life into it once again.”

The council has already spent £4.5million buying empty shop units from private ownership, renovating and bringing them back in to use at affordable rental levels – all of them currently occupied by independent businesses

A Local Development Order has been put in place to simplify the planning process for property owners and potential investors

This project is being procured via the South West Wales Regional Contractors Framework. Carmarthenshire County Council has appointed a regional contractor who will develop the project alongside local supply chains.

For further information on this framework, email TSSWWRCF@carmarthenshire.gov.uk

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