Prime Minister couldn’t ‘find time’ to discuss TATA Steel – Mark Drakeford
Rishi Sunak couldn’t “find time” to discuss Tata Steel job losses in Port Talbot, Mark Drakeford has claimed.
Last week Tata decided to press ahead with a shift to low carbon production at its site in Port Talbot, south Wales.
The move to close two of the firm’s blast furnaces will lead to the loss of up to 2,800 jobs and more which supply the plant with goods and services.
Speaking during First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday (January 23), Mr Drakeford said that he had reached out to the Prime Minister the week before to discuss the impact on Port Talbot steelworkers.
He said: “On Thursday of last week, when it became clear that the company were to make their announcement on the Friday, I wrote immediately to the Prime Minister asking for a telephone call with him on Friday so that we could jointly discuss how we could best respond to the emerging picture.
“By half past eight in the morning on Friday I’d had a reply from the Prime Minister saying that he couldn’t find time to meet or talk to me that day. I do think that is genuinely shocking.”
Welsh Conservative Senedd Members shouted out across the Chamber at Mr Drakeford who cut across them saying: “I do hope you’re not defending that. Nobody outside this room will hear Members of the Conservative Party shouting at me, but let me make sure that people do know that they’re shouting at me to defend the fact that their Prime Minister was unprepared to talk to the First Minister of Wales on that day.”
The First Minister said he was “genuinely baffled” about why the Prime Minister “did not feel it was a priority” to speak with him about Tata Steel.
Leader of Plaid Cymru Rhun ap Iorwerth said the attitude of the UK Government towards the steel industry in Wales was “shameful”.
He added that the Welsh Conservatives defence of the Prime Minister was “disturbing”.
The leader of the opposition, Andrew RT Davies asked the First Minister what financial support would be made available to Tata.
He said: “It is a fact that a transition board has been established, jointly, I understand, with the company and the UK Government, and the Welsh Government have a role with the Minister for Economy sitting as vice-chairman on that transition board.
“Can you outline what the aspiration is and what the hopes are of the Welsh Government for that transition board to make a real difference in transitioning to the new steel-making capacity at Port Talbot and, importantly, supporting the workforce in that journey?”
The First Minister responded describing the Tata Steel job losses as “devastating news for the whole of the United Kingdom”.
He said: “We believe that there is a credible alternative that would sustain jobs at Port Talbot and would sustain indigenous steel making in the United Kingdom.
“That is the Syndex plan, which the trade unions have jointly funded to bring about. It was described as a credible plan by the company themselves.
“I say to the company what I know others have said: I hope they will not make any irreversible decisions, because with a general election happening this year, there is an alternative future for the steel industry for the United Kingdom, and I want Port Talbot to be part of that.”
Tata is pledging a £130 million support package to help workers retrain or find new jobs but unions have warned the decision will be devastating for the south Wales economy as well as the steel industry.
Plaid Cymru’s Senedd leader also raised the issue of Tata’s announcement during his time to quiz the First Minister on Tuesday.
He accused the UK Government of a “lack of willingness” to recognise the importance of the steel industry to Wales.
Mr Iorwerth said: “Now, in a general election year the steel industry is looking for a signal that a potential future government would commit in a way that the current Government has not.
“But whilst money is of course top of the list in many, many ways, we also need a plan, and it’s clear from the Tata announcement that the absence of an industrial strategy by either UK or Welsh Government is costing us dearly.”
Dozens of steel workers made the journey from south Wales to Westminster on Tuesday to urge the UK Government to protect the future of the industry.
The Port Talbot site is Tata’s biggest employer in the UK, with around 4,000 workers based there.
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