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Job losses at Port Talbot steelworks “risk a return to the bad times of the 1980s” says Labour’s Jo Stevens

01 Mar 2024 5 minute read
Port Talbot steelworks. Photo Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Martin Shipton

Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens has warned Conservative ministers they risk a repeat of the crippling deindustrialisation she witnessed growing up in the 1980s if they don’t act to prevent a “redundancy cliff edge” on steel.

Speaking on St David’s Day, the Cardiff Central MP said that the loss of sovereign steel-making capability represented a “fundamental threat to our economy and security”.

She added: “Steelmaking is the lifeblood of communities across Wales, the backbone of local economies and the foundation of our manufacturing capability. On St David’s Day in particular, we reflect on Wales’s proud industrial roots. Wales is brimming with potential and I am ambitious for a future fuelled by the innovation and talent I’ve seen up and down our country.

“Kick in the teeth”

“Yet short-sighted Tory ministers look set to squander it. The deep cuts to jobs at TATA are a kick in the teeth. But ministers have compounded the risk to livelihoods, effectively forking out £500m in taxpayers’ money to make up to 3,000 people redundant and forfeit our ability to make virgin steel.

Cardiff Central MP Jo Stevens

The Business Secretary [Kemi Badenoch], not known for diplomacy, said Wales should consider this a win. The Welsh Secretary has said it’s mission accomplished on saving Welsh steelmaking.

“Indifference”

“Their attitude shows a casual indifference to thousands of people across south Wales whose livelihoods are at stake, a fundamental misunderstanding of the regional economy, and total disregard for the need to preserve the UK’s sovereign steelmaking capability.

“The truth is their approach is totally self-defeating. However Tory ministers try to spin it, the loss of sovereign steelmaking is a fundamental threat to our economy and security.”

Ms Stevens’ comments came as new analysis suggested that the closure of TATA’s Port Talbot blast furnaces will eliminate the supply of a quarter of the steel needed for government infrastructure projects over the next decade.The government’s steel pipeline shows that government departments require 8.1m tonnes of steel for major infrastructure projects over the next 10 years.

As part of its restructuring plan, Tata Steel is preparing to close its two blast furnaces at the Port Talbot plant by the end of 2024. The total annual capacity of the two blast furnaces at Port Talbot is five million tonnes. The electric arc furnace, which according to the restructuring plan will replace the blast furnaces from 2027, would have a capacity of three million tonnes. This will result in the loss of two million tonnes of production capacity.

Ms Stevens grew up just five miles from Shotton in Flintshire, which was scarred by the closure of its own steelworks in 1980. The resulting loss of 6,500 jobs remains the biggest industrial redundancy on a single day in western Europe.

Impact

The MP said: “It totally decimated the place. Nearly every kid at my school had family who worked in the steel works and the supply chain. The impact of those mass redundancies in our area was felt for decades – all those skills and the potential of my generation just wasted. I am desperately concerned that we’ll see this again, this time in Port Talbot.”

 TATA is currently consulting on the loss of up to 3,000 jobs. It is estimated that for every job lost at the site, a further three could be at risk in the wider supply chain.

Ms Stevens said: “Steelmaking is the lifeblood of communities across Wales, the backbone of local economies and the foundation of our manufacturing capability”.

She  argues that this is not just a blow to livelihoods, and regional economies across Wales and England, but also threatens our security with a blow to sovereign manufacturing capability.

“Not only are ministers risking the livelihoods of thousands of people, they’re constraining our ability to make the wind turbines we need to lower our energy bills and create the jobs of the future,” she said.

“We’re surrendering our sovereign capability to build the Royal Navy ships we need to keep our shores safe and our shipbuilding industry strong at a time when the world is getting more dangerous.”

Industrial roots

Ms Stevens said Labour has a different view of how things could be:a Labour government would invest an additional £2.5bn on top of the current government’s planned £500m investment in the UK steel industry by the end of its first term.

The party has also committed to increasing domestic demand for steel by tripling solar power, more than doubling onshore wind capacity and quadrupling offshore wind by 2030.

“We can build the economy of the future, creating good quality jobs, driving down energy bills and providing energy security,”  she said. “We will rekindle Wales’ proud industrial roots with the industries of the future.”

Secretary of State for Wales David TC Davies responded: “The UK Conservative government intervened in Port Talbot with one of the biggest support packages in the history of steelmaking to save as many jobs as possible. The plan has safeguarded Welsh steel for many generations to come.

“However, TATA Steel has been clear for many months that their plans will inevitably lead to job losses. This is why the UK Government has provided £80 million to help all those who will be impacted by the changes.

“Ms Stevens needs to use her position as the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales to encourage her Welsh Government colleagues to prioritise helping steel workers because to date they haven’t offered a single penny. Welsh Government ministers have over £100m to create more politicians and tens of millions on 20mph default speed limits – but nothing for helping steel workers it would seem. And, to date, no one, including TATA, has seen a coherent alternative plan from Labour.”


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Barry Pandy
Barry Pandy
1 month ago

I wonder what the farmers have got to say about this?

Oh wait, nothing whatsoever- steelworkers don’t vote tory.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
1 month ago

Stevens is a bit late to the party, Tata Steel’s massive new blast furnace is almost up and running in India so its a bit late now to campaign for Tata to change their mind and keep the furnaces open in Port Talbot.

Mab
Mab
1 month ago

Why are Labour closing the last coal mine in Wales that supports TATA steel? On the guise that this is for Climate Change yet this would mean coal has to be imported. Idiots.

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
1 month ago

“Building the Electric Arc Furnace in an already operating steel melt shop would be fraught with risk, significantly increasing costs, creating a sub-optimal plant layout, delaying implementation of the plan and jeopardising the proposed business transformation programme” – Tata Steel. Can we really trust Tata to build this new furnace? Has the UK government got a cast iron guarantee, after all it has £500m invested in the project? Cymru has taken a hit too many times by business and UK governments that just do not give a damn. I’m sure the Tories will continue to shout far and wide about… Read more »

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
1 month ago

Losing the steel industry in Wales is a tragedy for the people of Wales. It could have been avoided. TATA has put its European steel investments into the Netherlands. Why ? Because unlike Britain, the Netherlands remain in Benelux and the EU Single market and customs union. Ms Stevens, your Labour Party did not inform your own constituents of the damage that a hard Brexit would do. Your only answer, is wait until the next general election, this year? we hope. We still don’t know when the election will be. Mr Starmer has the solutions (or may not). What a… Read more »

Mal charles
Mal charles
1 month ago

Watching a programme on miners strike last night where Maggie thatcher was thanking steelworkers for helping to defeat miners strike .

Annibendod
Annibendod
1 month ago

Well Jo, Wales has returned a plurality of Labour MP’s for some time now … d’ya think it’s done us any good? Did it stop Thatcher? Has it stopped any of these appalling Tories at any time? Has it helped us modernise Port Talbot and keep jobs? You’re wedded to anglo-British imperialism and that’s the problem.

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