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Port Talbot steelworks could support UK defence industry – Welsh Secretary

Port Talbot’s steelworks could help to support the UK’s defence industry, the Welsh Secretary has said.

David TC Davies said “very little steel” produced at the South Wales plant is going into the defence industry, but the installation of an electric arc furnace would change this.

The UK Government has committed to investing £500 million in electric arc furnace technology at the site, but around 2,800 jobs are expected to be lost as a result of the transition.

Tata plans to invest £750 million in the furnace, alongside funding for a support package for the employees expected to be made redundant.

Welsh Secretary David TC Davies
Welsh Secretary David TC Davies (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Davies said: “The Government have looked very carefully at this, there is very little steel being produced by Port Talbot going into the defence industry, but the defence industry is being supplied with steel from an electric arc furnace by Sheffield Forgemasters.

“And there is absolutely no reason why an electric arc furnace built at Port Talbot, using support from the UK Government, cannot help support our defence industry in years to come.”

He was responding to Conservative MP Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton), who said: “Steelmaking is essential to our national security, as is reaching net zero.

“The problem is the Welsh Labour Government can’t make its mind up which is more important. After trying to kill off the steel industry with their green measures, they now complain this Government isn’t doing enough to support it.

“Does the (Secretary of State) think that they do not really know their Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) from their Nalgo (National and Local Government Officers’ Association)?”

Elsewhere in the session, shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens described the job losses at Port Talbot as a “kick in the teeth for our proud” workers.

Ms Stevens said: “Tata workers I met last week know the virgin steel they make is vital to supporting our renewable energy aspirations, like offshore wind in the Celtic Sea.

“So the loss of 3,000 jobs is a kick in the teeth for our proud, skilled Welsh steel workers, it will devastate local economies and the sovereign steel-making capacity that would build the wind turbines we need.”

Welsh Office minister Fay Jones replied: “The investment from this UK Government has saved thousands of jobs across the United Kingdom, of course the transition board is now working with the individuals affected in Port Talbot and that is a proper and right thing to do.”

Ms Stevens said: “She boasts about the transition board but that only exists because of the Government’s failure to protect jobs and vital industries.

“But let me ask her this: each year Port Talbot provides enough virgin steel to deliver the UK’s 20230 wind targets by itself, so when her Government’s intervention shuts the blast furnaces early can she tell the House where that steel is going to come from?

“Will it be coming from India? And we will be surrendering our ability to create jobs, investment and cheaper bills here in Britain.”

Ms Jones replied: “Indications so far are that moving away from iron-making in the UK would not have a direct impact on national security.”

Shadow Welsh Secretary Jo Stevens
Shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Labour MP for Ogmore Chris Elmore said: “Last week in the steel debate, the Secretary of State said he understands, and I quote, ‘the devastation that people will feel in Port Talbot and in the whole community who face the job losses at the plant and beyond’.

“Why is it then that the Secretary of State, or indeed the Business Secretary, didn’t put in a red line over job losses while this work was done, especially with Tata this morning doubling down on those losses in the Welsh Affairs Select Committee? It is nothing short of a disgrace.”

Mr Davies replied: “As the honourable gentleman knows, Tata approached the UK Government and said they were intending to pull out of the United Kingdom.

“If Tata had pulled out completely from the United Kingdom, it would have immediately cost 8,000 jobs and many thousands more in the supply chain.

“The Government therefore acted to take the only deal which was available, which was to build the electric arc furnace and save thousands of jobs.”