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First Minister blasted for ‘wasting time’ on Tata visit to Mumbai

15 May 2024 5 minute read
First Minister Vaughan Gething – Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament

Emily Price

The First Minister has been accused of “wasting time” on a trip to Mumbai to urge Tata Steel bosses to “look again” at plans to shut blast furnaces in Port Talbot.

Vaughan Gething visited India last week to plead with Tata Steel to wait for a Labour government before shutting off its blast furnaces and making thousands of job cuts.

The First Minister was criticised for the 9,000 mile round trip given that Tata’s bosses were in the UK just two weeks before.

Nation.Cymru asked the Welsh Government for details of the cost of the trip and how long the First Minister was in India for before flying back – but we did not receive an answer.

It’s understood that several Freedom of Information Requests have been submitted asking for details of the cost and timeframe of the visit.

Following seven months of discussions with unions, Tata revealed last month it is proceeding with plans to shut down two blast furnaces and invest £1.25 billion in an electric arc furnace on its Port Talbot site.

The move will see thousands of jobs lost, with the new furnace needing fewer workers to maintain.

On the visit to the company in India, Mr Gething called for it to wait for more investment from a potential incoming Labour UK government and keep one blast furnace running in the meantime.

Urgency

In the Senedd on Tuesday (May 15) during a statement from the First Minister on Tata Steel, Plaid Cymru’s spokesman for economy, Luke Fletcher said the time to go to India “had long passed”.

He said: “We first heard rumblings about the possible closure of the blast furnaces and job losses in Port Talbot last year. Where was the urgency then? The bosses of Tata were in the UK two weeks ago.

“Why didn’t you meet with them then? Did you ask for a meeting? Now, as far as I can see now, you went to India with no specific asks, no inclination from Tata that anything would change as a result of your visit, so what was the purpose? If anything, based on your statement, you’ve wasted time, to be quite frank.”

Jobs

Mr Gething said his trip was the “right thing to do” given the circumstances.

Tata’s plans would see the two blast furnaces closed by the end of June and September respectively, with 2,800 jobs lost – the majority at its site in Port Talbot.

Up to 10,000 people are expected to be impacted indirectly.

The company has previously rejected a plan put forward by unions to keep one furnace running while the electric one is built, saying this would have incurred at least £1.6 billion of additional costs.

Mr Gething says the Welsh Government’s prime position is that ministers don’t want to see the final blast furnace turned off.

Workforces

Speaking in the Chamber, the First Minister said: “It is disappointing that the formal consultation has now concluded, and, as a result, we have to plan on the basis that blast furnace 5 will close in June, and to make preparations for blast furnace 4 closing by the end of September. Negotiations on wider issues affecting the workforce with the steel trades unions are ongoing.

“The Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Energy and Welsh Language and I will maintain a close dialogue with trade union colleagues on this matter. The Cabinet Secretary is arranging a visit to Llanwern to discuss in further detail how we can best support the priorities of the workforce as talks continue.

“As well as urging an approach that avoids compulsory redundancies, it is important that workers who remain with the company are rewarded with pay that recognises their skills, talent and dedication.

“The Welsh Government continues to engage with the transition board. We will press the case for rapid action from partners over the coming months.”

Two unions – Community and Unite – have already balloted their members on potential strike action at the plant in Port Talbot, with overwhelming support in favour.

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies criticised Mr Gething’s trip.

Proposals

He says the UK Government has put over half a billion pounds on the table to save steel jobs in Port Talbot but that the only cash the Labour Welsh Government has spent is on a trip to India.

Speaking in the Senedd he said: “Clearly, you went to Mumbai with a set of proposals. Were those proposals identified as Keir Starmer’s proposals, that he would adopt if he was to be the Prime Minister?

“Why did Tata Steel not feel confident enough to say, ‘Okay, we’ll take you at your word, First Minister. There is an alternative here’, rather than proceed with what is on the table, £500 million of UK Government money with two arc furnaces protecting jobs and making sure that Wales will be at the forefront of steel-making production?”

The First Minister replied saying: “I think the company are choosing to want to implement their plan before a general election. And they’re not publicly going to move away from that.

“Whilst there hasn’t been a general election, they’re not about to say in public they will of course change their mind. It’s important that we carry on making the case, though. If we’re not prepared to fight for these jobs and for the sector, who is going to do it? Because that isn’t the message we’re getting from UK Ministers at present.

“I want to see that change, and I want the maximum impact from people across this Chamber, to try and deliver the best outcome for Welsh workers, and I believe the best outcome for the UK in retaining this key sovereign asset.”


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
20 hours ago

Hang on, India is a Welsh Labour jolly, not just Vaughan Gething’s fridge for the day…

Keep some perspective…

Elaine
Elaine
20 hours ago

I remember Martin Shipton writing that Gething’s former chief aide (from his first leadership campaign) was appointed to the post of Head of the Wales India Office with no apparent relevant experience.
Maybe VG wanted a catch up with his old buddy for some reason…

Malcolm Jones
Malcolm Jones
19 hours ago

Dammed if you do and dammed if you Don’t

hdavies15
hdavies15
18 hours ago

VG knew that going to India was “the right thing to do”. Shame he didn’t “do the right thing” when all that loot was given to his campaign. Where did it all go, was it spent, and on what ?

Why vote
Why vote
18 hours ago

Wonder how long did it take after he left the meeting for them to fall about laughing?

Frank
Frank
17 hours ago

I hope he takes the cost of the journey out of the £200k donation.

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
16 hours ago

The would still be a steel works at Port Talbot if Wales had remained in the EU single market and customs union. TATA is putting investment in the Netherlands which is in the EU single market and customs union. Too bad, Welsh Labour has followed the UK government out of the EU and EFTA and EEA. …And it is not just the steel industry that is lost, it is the farming industry too that has lost out due to being outside EFTA and EEA. We should have made staying in the EU a condition for us remaining in the UK.… Read more »

Howie
Howie
15 hours ago

Maybe he wanted to get away from smell of Withyhedge Landfill

Jeff
Jeff
9 hours ago

What was it, air miles? Points on the official spend credit card?

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
3 hours ago

This is how Sunak’s government does international VIP Tory Donor trade missions to Saudi Arabia dressed up as a UK (tax funded) affair…in the Guardian…

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