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Sunak accused of snub over Port Talbot job losses

19 Jan 2024 4 minute read
Mark Drakeford picture by the Welsh Government. Rishi Sunak picture by Stefan Rousseau / PA.

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.”

Committed

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.”

Devastating blow

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.”

Transition period

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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Frank
Frank
1 month ago

So what was more important than Port Talbot that Sunak could not avail himself from?

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Selling off oil, nhs, boats stopped……..(yeah, he don’t care, continuity thatcher)

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

Dr Hook…Rishi’s mother said Rishi is very busy right now on the phone to Modi Ji…

We’ve been had…

Gareth
Gareth
1 month ago

So Mr Drakeford, you’ve paid into the UK insurance policy, and when it comes time to claim, there’s nobody to talk to and nothing for you. Do you get the message yet?

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago
Reply to  Gareth

Drakeford on S4C news last night was very clear about adopting a steady transition rather than an abrupt almost immediate termination of blast furnaces. Even ARTD looks as though he’s seen the light on that one. If Starmer got off his pot and aligned his policy to Drakeford’s idea it would send a message that someone in Westminster bubble does have a clue about managing change. Maybe Rishi can then bugger off to India and convince them to change!

Stephen
Stephen
1 month ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Steady transition away from blast furnaces, thought he wanted to keep producing virgin steel, which needs a blast furnace?

Emma Catherwood
Emma Catherwood
1 month ago

Net Zero. The gift that keeps on taking.

Robert Williams
Robert Williams
1 month ago

Is what Jo Stevens said correct? Has Labour really earmarked £3 billion? If so they should be shouting it from the rooftops. They could very well be in power within the next 12 months, so surely Tata could be persuaded to hold off?

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
1 month ago

Rishi continues to show his disrespect for Cymru, it’s Senedd and Cymry. But it’s all you can expect from (wealthy) tories in westminster!

ARTD’s suggestion for keeping a blast furnace, while it transitions to green steel production, at Port Talbot was the basis of the unions’ proposals that have been completely rejected by tata. He isn’t capable of original thought!

Emma Catherwood
Emma Catherwood
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

Tories in Westminster? Where ?

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

What is the order book like?

All the miles of rail track used by Msrrs Welsh Gov, where has all that come from?

How about /WG/management/worker buy out?

Tell them it’s perfect for a festival.

Tell them anything and get off your knees Mr Gething…

I know it is not free money nuclear power (don’t mention plutonium) but you can’t build bomb cases without it…

Last edited 1 month ago by Mab Meirion
Gareth
Gareth
1 month ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Sorry MM, but the railtrack is the responsibility of network rail, UK Gov controlled, the dept for trade and industry and the UK Treasury controll the purse strings, and desicions of this size are reserved to Westminster. Nothing we can do in situations like this. We are at the mercy of Westminster, until we gain indy.

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago
Reply to  Gareth

Their purchasing policy dictates where the steel comes from. Nothing stopping UK Gov making a “buy British” decision. After all that’s what they have preached at the rest of us.

Emma Catherwood
Emma Catherwood
1 month ago

Net Zero, the gift that keeps on taking.

Why vote
Why vote
1 month ago

Why is Drakeford calling Sunak ? You are the first minister for wales stand up and do the job you wanted not run to another country for help. Prove we can stand alone in the world make a hard decision.

Gareth
Gareth
1 month ago
Reply to  Why vote

Nothing he can do, this is a ” reserved” area, the Senedd and FM have no say.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
1 month ago

As far as I am aware new steel cannot be produced without a blast furnace. Electric system being proposed for Port Talbot only suitable for recycling steel. If true it marks the end (almost) pf steel making in the UK. We will depend on foreign imports for defence etc etc.
Tory green policy will require shipping steel here, green? Similar to new oil excavation licences they have given out? Clearly the tories are, once again, selling Wales down the river.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago

What has drakeford done to save Port Talbot apart from blame Westminster?
He’s just as useless as they are.

Stephen
Stephen
1 month ago

I’d like drakeford to explain in more detail what he means by this “loss of production of virgin steel at scale will have a profound impact on the UK’s economy”. The reason they are shutting down is because they aren’t profitable, compared to the competition, most likely from China. It won’t impact the economy in my eyes at least, unless the global market prices go bonkers, it’s cheaper sadly to buy steel from abroad. However I do believe we should retain the ability to make virgin steel in this country, and the government would have to subsidise it and enforce… Read more »

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