CONSERVATIVE councillors in Swansea have backed a motion calling for Tata Steel to retain one of its two blast furnaces at Port Talbot and protect the UK’s ability to make “virgin” steel.
The motion was brought by Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors at a meeting of full council , and ended up being unanimously approved.
The motion said Tata Steel’s planned closure of its two blast furnaces at Port Talbot and accompanying job losses would remove £100 million-plus per year from the local economy in direct wages alone, and that the UK would become increasingly reliant on overseas virgin steel.
Speaking at the debate, Swansea Conservative leader Cllr Lyndon Jones said: “I think it’s very important that we retain the capacity to make high-quality steel.”
Tata is to invest £1.25 billion in an electric arc furnace at Port Talbot, which recycles scrap steel, with the UK Government contributing £500 million. Its plans will, however, mean around 2,800 UK job cuts being lost with the bulk at Port Talbot. The Indian-owned company said its UK operations were losing money – and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the alternative was the entire Port Talbot plant closing. The move to an electric arc furnace will also reduce the UK’s carbon emissions.
The motion at full council said: “Whilst we fully support the need to decarbonise the economy and steel making, we are strongly of the view that there must be a managed transition towards low and ‘zero carbon’. We ask that a fully representative regional task force be established to examine all the options to protect jobs and steel-making opportunities.”
Council leader Rob Stewart said the loss of so many well-paid jobs at Port Talbot was devastating and that an electric arc furnace would rely on a competitive energy price to operate. He said the loss of virgin steel-making capacity made no sense from a defence point of view. He added that the UK would still need such steel, and that it would have to come from overseas and therefore not reduce the planet’s carbon emissions.
“So on what basis can the (UK) Government support this?” said the Swansea Labour leader.
Cllr Chris Holley, Swansea’s Lib Dem leader, said the steel industry between Llanelli and Bridgend had been decimated over the past three decades.
“If it’s a bank, you underwrite it, you’ve got to look after them,” he said, referring to the 2008 financial crisis. “But the steel industry does not have that club. And that’s the sickening part of it.” He added: “We are losing a vital part of our infrastructure.”
Cllr Jones, of the Conservatives, said the impending job losses were really sad and would have a big impact. He said he was pleased about the UK Government’s £500 million contribution to Tata, but felt one of the two blast furnaces should be kept open for at least four years. He also cited a £100 million sum allocated by Westminster to help retrain steel workers affected by the cuts but said he’d like it to be more. He added: “Now is the time to do all we can to keep those jobs.”
Fellow Conservative, Cllr Will Thomas, described Tata’s Port Talbot decision as “absolutely awful” and hoped it would be reversed. He said he and others were making their concerns known within the party.
Labour councillor and deputy council leader, Andrea Lewis, wanted to know if steel of sufficient quality would be able to be manufactured at Port Talbot for offshore wind turbines which could be installed in the future in the Celtic Sea.
Industry body UK Steel has said that electric arc furnace technology has progressed and that such furnaces were already producing highly specialised steel for the aerospace and defence sectors in the UK.
Its director general, Gareth Stace, said: “Over the next few years, the sector will accelerate innovation and collaborate with our varied customer base to supply green steel via electric arc furnace steel-making, using the abundance of scrap steel that the UK generates each year. Government must continue its pledge to significantly support the UK steel sector.”