the senedd in cardiff bay
The Senedd Credit: Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament

Wales’ economy minister was urged to explore all powers at his disposal to protect the Port Talbot steelworks after Tata confirmed the loss of thousands of jobs.

Luke Fletcher said there is cross-party agreement that the two blast furnaces should stay open, yet “here we are nonetheless, bystanders in our own nation’s future”.

Plaid Cymru’s shadow economy secretary said: “I’m frustrated to no end. 2,800 direct jobs, thousands more in the supply chain and contractors.

“It’s all I’ve heard since being elected: job losses, job losses, job losses.”

Mr Fletcher asked: “What is the point – and I put this to every member in this chamber – what is the point of us here? What’s the point of MPs…? Are we so eager to accept defeat?”

‘Emergency legislation’

Mr Fletcher said he could see three options for the future: nationalisation, putting a preservation order on the blast furnaces, or accepting managed decline.

The South Wales West MS pressed Jeremy Miles, the economy secretary: saying: “It’s game night. What’s the play? This can’t be it. If the workers are willing to fight, we should be too.”

Adam Price, the former Plaid Cymru leader, said legal advice suggests the Welsh Government has the power to maintain and mothball the site.

He told the chamber: “We could introduce emergency legislation. This is not me saying this; this is the Senedd’s legal advisers. We could use compulsory purchase-like powers.”

David Rees, the Labour MS for Aberavon, who chairs the cross-party group on steel, said the reality is the current UK Government has no industrial strategy and no plan for steel.

‘Light on detail’

Samuel Kurtz described a statement from Wales’ economy secretary as light on detail about how the Welsh Government is supporting the workforce and wider community.

The Conservatives’ new shadow economy secretary sought assurances that steelworkers’ skills accreditation and qualifications will be fully transferable to new employers.

Mr Kurtz raised the opportunities of the Celtic free port – which promises thousands of new jobs by the start of the next decade, many of which will be in Port Talbot.

He warned: “If there is a brain and skills drain, then we simply will not be able to maximise the full economic benefit the free port has to offer.”

Mr Kurtz, who represents Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, urged the Welsh Government to make a financial contribution to the Port Talbot transition board.

‘Deep regret’

Tom Giffard, a fellow Conservative, who represents South Wales West, echoed the call, saying the UK Government has put in £80m with Tata Steel contributing £20m.

“Still nothing from the Welsh Government and that is a matter of deep regret,” he said.

Sioned Williams, the Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales West, criticised Welsh ministers for waiting for a new UK Labour Government, warning that it could be too late.

John Griffiths, who represents Newport East, raised the importance of downstream operations, such as those at Llanwern, and support for apprentices.

Jack Sargeant, a fellow Labour backbencher, who represents Alyn and Deeside, drew a parallel with the thousands of job losses at Shotton Steel in the 1980s.

‘Heavy handed’

Jane Dodds, for the Liberal Democrats, was dismayed by Tata’s “heavy-handed” approach.

She said: “Allowing an unjust transition, which is what this is, which fails thousands of Port Talbot workers, their families and the surrounding community, is completely unacceptable.”

Jeremy Miles urged Tata to give workers and supply chains the opportunity to work on the decommissioning and construction phase required to move to electric arc steelmaking.

In his statement to the Senedd on April 30, the economy secretary raised concerns about the impact Tata’s plan will have on plants in Llanwern, Trostre, Shotton and Caerphilly.

He told the chamber: “We need to see a clear vision from the company that will involve significant investment in all sites.”

‘Just transition’

Mr Miles accused the UK government of failing to engage on the need to deliver a sustainable future for steelmaking in Wales for 14 years.

He said Welsh Government investment in supporting steel production over the years makes up a far greater proportion of its budget than £80m against the UK Government’s.

Mr Miles, who represents Neath, told the Senedd he wants to see a just transition based on the multi-union Syndex plan which he described as a costed and credible alternative.

He said: “Our task now is to make sure that we fight for the best possible future for the workers and for the steel industry.”

During questions to the first minister earlier that day, Vaughan Gething confirmed he will travel to Mumbai next week to meet Tata and press the case.