Sunak accused of snub over Port Talbot job losses
Rishi Sunak was “not available” for urgent talks requested by the Welsh First Minister about the potential loss of thousands of jobs from the closure of Tata Steel’s blast furnaces at its plant in Port Talbot, South Wales.
Mark Drakeford wrote to the Prime Minister to ask for a phone call on the redundancies.
But he was told by Downing Street that Mr Sunak was “not available to take the call today”, according to a spokesman for Mr Drakeford.
It came after Tata confirmed plans to shutter blast furnaces at its biggest UK plant and make steel more environmentally friendly, which needs a smaller workforce.
The plans are subject to consultation but could result in the loss of up to 2,800 jobs, with most affected in the next 18 months.
In his letter to Mr Sunak, Mr Drakeford wrote: “I am aware that you have been briefed by Tata Steel on the closure of their blast furnaces and the imminent loss of thousands of jobs, mainly in Port Talbot, South Wales.
“I am sure you will agree with me the loss of production of virgin steel at scale will have a profound impact on the UK’s economy, and I would ask if you and I could have an urgent discussion regarding this strategic matter at your earliest convenience.”
The Prime Minister on Friday insisted the Government is “absolutely committed” to British steelmaking and had provided up to £500 million to support Tata’s transformation.
He told broadcasters the entire plant would have been closed and all 8,000 jobs lost without the support.
Asked why the Welsh Government had not been involved in the discussions, Mr Sunak said: “The Welsh Government did not participate in that and that’s because we cared about those jobs, and the future of steelmaking in Wales and the UK, because there’s an announcement coming later, but it’s important that we wait for that.”
No 10 also complained that the Welsh Government had done nothing to save jobs and had not contributed the plan.
Mr Drakeford earlier said the news about the future of steelmaking at the plant “will be devastating for steel workers and communities in Wales”.
He added: “We will carry on working to protect the future of Welsh steel production and we will do all we can to support all those affected by today’s announcement.”
Labour’s shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens said: “What is the point of Rishi Sunak? Tata workers’ livelihoods are on the line and he won’t even answer his phone.
“If there was a UK Labour government right now, Welsh steelworkers would not have woken up to this news today.
“Labour has earmarked £3 billion investment to ensure the transition to green steel comes with jobs in Wales.”
Speaking outside the Port Talbot plant, Vaughan Gething, minister for the economy in the Welsh Government, said: “It’s a devastating blow for this community, not just the steel workers who have been told about the extraordinary level of job loss, but the wider community.
“Because steel working really does bring something to this town. Not just in the multiplier of jobs – we think there are at least three jobs reliant on every job here in the steel works – but they’re well paid jobs here.
“It’s not a community that has a significant amount of well paid employment around it to replace the scale of the job losses that have been proposed. It’s not the most well-off part of Wales, never mind the rest of the UK.
“So today’s news is a cause of real grief and upset as well as anger from the community here.”
Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd, said a blast furnace could have been kept open at Tata’s Port Talbot plant during the transition period.
“Today is an incredibly difficult day for Wales, my thoughts are with those steel workers and subcontractors who will be losing their jobs in the coming months and their families,” he said.
“This situation must be handled with care by all decision makers involved – I’m confident that the transition board will achieve this.
“I remain unconvinced that a blast furnace could not be kept open during the transition to the arc furnaces that Tata have agreed to, protecting many jobs in the short to medium term – this needs to be explained fully as to why this hasn’t been done by the company.
“Many thousands of jobs have been protected, with record investment from the UK Conservative Government, the story of Port Talbot steel is far from over with its sustainable future secured.”
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