Column published in Llanelli Herald on 17 February 2017
I felt a huge sense of relief when the news came through on Wednesday afternoon that TATA workers had voted to endorse the deal negotiated by the unions to secure the future of their plants.
In the end the majority was 75% of workers.
It would have been an economic disaster for our area if they had listened to Plaid Cymru’s call for them to vote it down. The Heavy End at Port Talbot would have closed, hundreds of workers would have lost their jobs and there would have been a big ripple effect on the whole economy.
Of course it wasn’t a black and white situation. There was understandable and justifiable anger by many older workers who felt the future they had planned, and worked for, has been taken away from them.
The events of the last year have created deep mistrust amongst many workers towards TATA. Even though it is broadly agreed that TATA have been good owners, even now committing to future investment when the UK-arm of its business is not profit making, the way that they put their plants up for sale last year and then refused to sell has created ill-feeling.
It is now up to TATA to keep its promises and invest in state of the art plant, in order to gain the most competitive edge and secure the future of the steel industry here in Llanelli and across the UK.
We also need the UK Government to recognise the huge commitment of the workers, and to start doing a lot more to support the steel industry. Tata’s senior management have been clear that the Tories have not followed through on their promises of help. In contrast to the Welsh Government who put the money on the table that enabled to deal to go ahead.
The plants can now work on the turnaround plan that TATA have agreed to fund. This includes a commitment to run two blast furnaces at Port Talbot until 2021 with an investment of around £50M.
There are still uncertainties ahead, not least the impact of Brexit. Two-thirds of what TATA makes in the UK is exported to the EU, and if the Prime Minister does not negotiate tariff-free access to the Single Market the steel products we produce could become more expensive to sell.
For me the big lesson of the last year is that we must become less reliant on the whims of international corporations. We must rebuild our local economy to grow local firms, grounded in their communities, to make us more resilient to external shocks.