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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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Trade deal won’t benefit Wales

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EVERY week, the Herald carries political opinion pieces from across Wales’ principal political parties.

This week, Jonathan Edwards MP casts an eye over the trade deal between the UK and Japan announced this week and wonders ‘What’s in it for Wales?’

Jonathan Edwards writes: THE BUNTING was on full display in Westminster this week as the British Government announced that it had reached the holy grail of signing its first post-Brexit international trade deal.  

The agreement with Japan was described by Secretary of State Liz Truss as a ‘major moment in our national history’.  As major moments go, a casual look at the detail leaves a lot to be desired.  Effectively all the British Government has achieved is to replicate a deal UK business already benefited from as part of the EU-Japan trade deal signed in 2019.

The British Government admit that over a 15-year period the deal will only increase UK economic wealth by 0.07%.  However, under the rules of Brexit political discourse never let the facts get in the way for an excuse to sing Rule Britannia and wave the Union Jack.

During the debate in the Commons, I highlighted that the British Government’s own figures indicate in a best-case scenario it would take 71 deals of this nature to make up for the British Governments strategy for the second phase of Brexit of leaving the EU Single Market and Customs Union.  If we no deal at the end of the year the situation would be considerably worse.

For Wales, the economic benefits are projected to be less than even the negligible UK figures with the deal only expected to benefit the Welsh economy by a measly 0.05%.  The same goes for other trade deals currently being negotiated by the British Government.

Capitulating on chlorinated chicken in the US Trade deal could only benefit the Welsh economy by 0.05% over 15 years according to an excellent Senedd Research paper.  

The New Zealand and Australia deals, according to the same paper, could have a 0% impact on the Welsh economy.  

Never again can the Tories claim to be the party of business: what we are witnessing is economic madness.

The agricultural provisions in the Japan deal further fuels my fears that our farmers will be the proverbial sacrificial lambs in these trade negotiations.  True there was progress on Geographical Indicators, but the British Government failed to secure any tariff rate quotas for food products.  Instead, our farmers will only be able to utilise unused quotas by the European Union.  

Let that sink in.  

In the real world, effectively. EU export policy will determine what can be exported from the UK.

The Secretary of State emphasised that the Japan deal paved the way for entry to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  A free trade area consisting of 11 countries (down from 12 after the US pulled out).  

What the British Government are reluctant to reveal is that the TPP contains strict rules on State Aid and also includes an investor-state dispute resolution mechanism which would supersede UK domestic law.  These are the same two areas, of course, that have led to the breakdown in the second phase Brexit negotiations currently ongoing.

At the end of the day, the two great Brexit era slogans of ‘take back control’ and ‘global Britain’ are completely incompatible and inherently contradictory.

As UK international trade policy develops these inconsistencies will become apparent to all.

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Plans for Llanelli’s first ever virtual Christmas carnival

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LLANELLI Christmas Carnival will not be held this year, for the first time in its 42-year history.

Partners have confirmed that the decision has been made in line with current Welsh Government guidance and increasing concerns about the spread of coronavirus linked to large gatherings.

However, plans are afoot to celebrate Christmases past and present in the town’s first ever virtual carnival.

On what would have been ‘carnival night’ the town’s illuminations will be switched on and an online celebration will be hosted on Carmarthenshire County Council’s social media channels featuring music, opportunity to reminisce over past carnivals and a challenge to businesses and organisations to create a carnival scene for the town’s first ever virtual parade.

The town’s Christmas tree is also being relocated to a more visible location for passers-by, at the busy Gelli-Onn junction near West End.

The largest Christmas carnival in Wales, Llanelli’s festive celebrations are a joint effort by Carmarthenshire County Council, Llanelli Town Council, Llanelli Rural Council and Llanelli Round Table.

Partners have expressed their disappointment at the decision but have vowed to keep Christmas spirit alive.

Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board Member for Culture, Sport and Tourism, said: “We have made this decision with a very heavy heart as we know how much the carnival means to the people of Llanelli. This is the first time since it started over 40 years ago that we have had to take a decision like this and we are as disappointed as I’m sure everyone else will be.

“We are determined to do something special to keep the tradition alive and planning is now underway to hold a virtual carnival on what would have been the night of the traditional festivities.”

Cllr Shahana Najmi, Leader of Llanelli Town Council said: “The Llanelli Christmas Carnival is the highlight in the calendar for thousands of people and whilst we’re sorry we can’t hold the traditional carnival this year, we are pleased to be working with partners on an online celebration which we hope people will get involved with and enjoy.”

Cllr Tegwen Devichand, Leader of Llanelli Rural Council, said: “Generations of families have enjoyed Llanelli’s Christmas carnival over the years and we’re disappointed that for this first time in its history we are unable to put on the parade. We hope people will understand the decision and support the plans we’re developing for the town’s first virtual carnival.”

Roger Bowen, of Llanelli Round Table, added: “Llanelli’s carnival night is an important night as it raises a great amount of money for local charities and brings many communities together with such tremendous work on the floats, which really makes the evening such a special event.  We hope that people will find other ways to give generously and support good causes in our communities.”

Further information will be released in the coming weeks about the virtual carnival and how people can get involved.

Keep an eye on Carmarthenshire County Council’s Facebook and Twitter feeds and visit newsroom.carmarthenshire.gov.wales

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Neath Retreat And Llanelli Group Receive Cash

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A NEATH retreat for people with cancer and a group looking to install a life-saving defibrillator machine in Llanelli have been handed cash donations from a leading housebuilder.

Ravens Retreat and Ffos Las Residents have both received financial backing from Persimmon Homes West Wales as part of the company’s long-running Community Champions scheme.

Ravens Retreat, which has a cottage on the banks of the Tennant Canal, provides completely free cottage breaks, soul midwife services and counselling for anyone with cancer diagnosis. The group has received £1,000 from Persimmon.

Ffos Las Residents, meanwhile, will use its £799 windfall to buy a defibrillator machine for Persimmon’s Ffos Las development, which could be used if someone suffers a cardiac problem.

Joolz Raven Stewart, of Ravens Retreat, said: “Our cottage and healing room have been wiped out twice in two years by storms.

“We lost everything on the ground floor of our retreat.

“We have had cancer patients raise £1,200 to replace some furniture but there is so much more to do around flood defences and this money will help.”

Shane Morrison, of Ffos Las Residents, said: “We’re extremely grateful to Persimmon for this generous donation.

“It means that we will be able to install the defib machine at the development. Who knows, it could prove life-saving one day.

“The site management team are very considerate and supportive of our community and our sincere thanks goes to Persimmon for the continued support from residents both old and new.”

Persimmon Homes gives away up to £744,000 a year through Community Champions.

Sharon Bouhali, sales director at Persimmon Homes West Wales, said: “We’re delighted to support these two groups with this funding.

“Ravens Retreat offers invaluable support to people with cancer, while the Ffos Las Residents group is striving to make their area better and safer.

“Well done to both groups.”

Persimmon is currently selling stunning new-build homes at sites across South Wales, including at The Bridles in Ffos Las and at Allt Y Celyn in Rhos.

The on-site sales offices in Wales have now reopened and househunters can make consultation appointments by visit www.persimmonhomes.com or calling 01554 708248.

Visit www.persimmonhomes.com/charity to apply for Community Champions funding.

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