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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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Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, dies aged 99

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The Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s ‘strength and stay’ for 73 years, has died aged 99.

Prince Philip’s health had been slowly deteriorating for some time. He announced he was stepping down from royal engagements in May 2017, joking that he could no longer stand up. He made a final official public appearance later that year during a Royal Marines parade on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace.

Since then, he was rarely seen in public, spending most of his time on the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk, though moving to be with her at Windsor Castle during the lockdown periods throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and where the couple quietly celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary in November 2020. He also celebrated his 99th birthday in lockdown at Windsor Castle.

The duke spent four nights at King Edward VII hospital in London before Christmas 2019 for observation and treatment in relation to a “pre-existing condition”.

Despite having hip surgery in April 2018, he attended the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle a month later and was seen sitting beside the Queen at a polo match at Windsor Great Park in June. He and the Queen missed Prince Louis of Cambridge’s christening in July 2018, but he was seen attending Crathie Kirk near Balmoral in August, and driving his Land Rover in the surrounding Scottish countryside in September.

It is expected that flags on landmark buildings in Britain will be lowered to half-mast as a period of mourning is announced.

The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford has expressed his sadness on the news of the death of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and offered condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal family on behalf of the Welsh Government.

He said: “It is with sadness that we mourn the death of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. Throughout his long and distinguished life, he served the crown with selfless devotion and generosity of spirit.

We offer our sincere condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, his children and their families on this sad occasion.

He will be missed by the many organisations that he supported as Patron or President over many decades of service”.Andrew RT Davies, the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, has led tributes to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, whose death was announced today.

In light of the sad news from Buckingham Palace, campaigning has been paused with immediate effect.

Mr Davies said: “This is a very sad day for the United Kingdom.
“The Duke of Edinburgh led a remarkable life, excelled himself with his career in the Royal Navy, was the strength and stay to Her Majesty The Queen, and has left a legacy to the nation through the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

“Dutiful, devoted, and diligent, his like will never be seen again, and Welsh Conservatives offer their deepest condolences to The Queen, and the rest of the Royal Family.”

Adam Price, leader of Plaid Cymru said: “On behalf of Plaid Cymru, I send my condolences to Her Majesty the Queen and her family. Many young people in Wales will have benefited from the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme, a reflection of many decades of his public service. Thoughts are with the Royal Family at this time.”

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Fire Chief’s pay being formally investigated

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THE TERMS and salary of the re-employment of a Chief Fire Officer for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service (MAWWFRS) are being formally investigated, The Herald can reveal.

We have previously reported on the re-employment of Chief Fire Officer Chris Davies following his retirement.

Cllr Gordon Walker, a former firefighter and Fire Authority member, officially raised a complaint with The Welsh Fire Minister and Auditor General for Wales regarding the terms of re-employment for the Chief Fire Officer and has been calling for an investigation since last year.

Mr Walker had written to the Fire Authority and MAWWFRS on numerous occasions asking for a review on the situation, however after failed attempts, Mr Walker sent his concerns to the Auditor General for Wales.

The issues that have been highlighted relate to the Chief Fire Officer’s pay and the policy regarding re-employment following retirement.

Chief Fire Officer Chris Davies, who retired from the service a number of years ago, has since been re-employed by Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service in a more senior role.

Due to legislation in accordance with the Authority’s Policy on Re-employment of Retired firefighters, following voluntary retirement employees may be re-engaged and have their pensions abated.

However, this will not normally exceed a one year fixed term contract to retain specialist skills or knowledge, this will not normally exceed a one year fixed term contract.

Stating section 4.4 of the policy it clearly states ‘An individual will be re-employed on the same level of basic pay pertaining to the role they hold on retirement’.

A source within the fire service told us how Chief Fire Officer, Chris Davies, despite taking voluntary retirement and receiving a lump sum payment, has been re-employed by MAWWFRS on a salary that is almost £20,000 higher than his former basic pay.

Despite government legislation that says they should be re-employed for no longer than a one year contract, Chris Davies has been re-employed in his current role for five years.

As of now there is still no succession plan in place to replace Chris Davies with MAWWFRS.

The Auditor General for Wales have confirmed that they will be running a full investigation into the salary and the terms surrounding the re-employment of Chris Davies as Chief Fire Officer.

Speaking to The Herald, Gordon Walker said: “I have put my complaint in and I can confirm that we are awaiting the results of the investigation.”

Gordon has been campaigning relentlessly to have more transparency on the re-employment of retired fire service employees, especially those re-engaged on a rank senior to that on which they left.

A spokesperson for MAWWFRS said: “Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service is aware of the allegations made by a Member of our Fire and Rescue Authority and we can confirm that we are currently working with Audit Wales as part of their investigation.

“It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

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Drakeford outlines road to normality

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PUBS and restaurants can reopen outdoors on April 26, the Welsh government has said.

Outdoor attractions can also open from that date.

The changes will come into force provided coronavirus cases remain low.

Non-essential retail and all other close contact services will also reopen on April 12, as well as travel between Wales and the rest of the UK.

The announcements come before a planned review from First Minister Mark Drakeford on Thursday (Apr 1), which is being held a day early because of the Easter weekend.

He is also expected to say that gyms can re-open sometime in May, alongside allowing up to 30 people to take part in outdoor sport.

Outdoor attractions are set to reopen April 26 and ministers could also allow gyms and leisure centres to open for individual training “by early May”, alongside organised outdoor activities for up to 30 people.

Both the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru said gyms should be allowed to reopen immediately.

Mr Drakeford will set out a “series of measures” to take Wales into Level 3 by 17 May, “subject to public health conditions remaining favourable”.

Pubs, bars and restaurants have been pleading with ministers to give them dates so they can prepare to reopen.

While parts of Wales’ lockdown have eased quicker than elsewhere in the UK, the Welsh government has been reluctant to set out a full list of when different sectors will reopen.

It has been critical of the London Government for aiming to end all rules on social contact by 21 June at the earliest – Mr Drakeford has said that was ‘very optimistic’.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies

Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies said: “Welsh Conservatives believe gyms across Wales should be reopened for the good of people’s mental and physical well-being.

“Two months ago, Labour said it would be a priority when it came to easing restrictions, but it’s been another broken promise from ministers. This should be corrected.

“And given the progress we’ve made on case rates and vaccination, we also believe consideration should be afforded to the reopening of outdoor hospitality in Wales.

“Labour ministers have lifted travel restrictions, but it’s created other issues such as a lack of public toilets, littering and anti-social behaviour.

“Some of the scenes over recent days have been concerning and ministers should see licensed, regulated businesses as part of the solution, instead of the problem.

“Welsh Conservatives have provided a detailed roadmap for families, workers and businesses across Wales and Labour should listen to our calls and do the same.”

Adam Price: Labour must explain why they’ve taken so long to give businesses certainty

Plaid Cymru’s Leader, Adam Price MS, said: “The Labour Government must explain why it has taken them so long to provide businesses with greater certainty on when they can expect to reopen. Having been closed for so long, the least they deserve is more time to prepare.

“While this news offers hospitality a glimmer of hope, it will be a while yet before the sector can fully re-open. Labour has a duty to provide extra financial support to help those businesses to get back on their feet – increasing the pot of cash that’s available to businesses.

“Time and again, hard-working Welsh businesses that form the backbone of our economy have been let down and left behind by this Labour government – the very least they can do is to dig deep and support key sectors of the Welsh economy.

“Meanwhile, gyms should be able to safely re-open now – not least to help with people’s wellbeing and mental health which has suffered so much during the last few months.”

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