Sunak ‘not available’ for talks with Drakeford on steel job losses

19 January 2024, 18:04

Mark Drakeford
Mark Drakeford. Picture: PA

Downing Street said the Welsh Government had not contributed to the deal with Tata to save jobs.

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.”

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak came under fire for turning down talks with the Welsh First Minister on Tata job losses (Dan Kitwood/PA)

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.

Welsh Secretary David TC Davies said: “Welsh Labour have not lifted a finger to save jobs at Tata. They’ve not put a penny in, despite splashing millions on more politicians and 20mph blanket speed limits.

“The actions of the UK Government have saved 5,000 jobs, which is 5,000 more than would have been saved if it had been left to the Labour Party.

“Those who have sadly lost their jobs will be shocked to see Labour just sniping from the sidelines today, having done nothing to save their jobs over many months.

“Before 10am this morning I offered to speak to the First Minister which he has yet to respond to. Labour are too busy playing politics to put the interests of Wales first.”

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.”

By Press Association