Edwina Hart, Minister for Economy, Science and Transport
I have committed to keep Members informed on the work of the Tata Steel Task Force. The third meeting took place on 22 February.
Once again, there was a strong attendance from all parties including Tata Steel, Unite and Community Unions as well as those representing organisations able to provide support for individuals and the business community. I am grateful to Lord Bourne for his support to the Task Force and for making time to attend the Task Force for a second time.
The Task Force meeting started with an oral report from Tata Steel setting out the latest position. The Trade Unions provided an update on the Energy Intensive Industries conference organised by the European Commission in Brussels on 15 February. The Unions reported that the demonstrations held outside the conference had been well supported.
The attention attracted by the demonstrations served to highlight the gravity of the difficulties currently faced by the steel industry across Europe. We will continue to champion the cause of Welsh steel at the highest levels of Government, both in the UK and Europe.
An update was given on the progress being made by each of the work streams.
The Skills and Training work stream has continued to work with Tata on the establishment of a one-stop-shop for support and advice to employees. In advance of this being up and running, the work stream has agreed a letter that is being issued through partners and networks to encourage organisations to notify the work stream of any offers of support or future job opportunities. These will be recorded centrally and will be shared with Tata in the first instance.
The Business and Supply Chain work stream is continuing to contact the supply chain and offer of support. This team, which comprises of members of Industry Wales, Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council and Welsh Government Officials has now been joined by a representative of the UK Government. As I have already indicated to Members, at this stage due to the commercially sensitive nature of the conversations and the live nature of this work, it is not possible to go into any detail. However, significant progress has been made in contacting those companies based in Wales and we are looking at how we can best direct our business support resources to support the supply chain.
Good progress is also being made regarding the development of a proposal for an Enterprise Zone for the area. The first draft of a submission has been reviewed by my Officials who are working with Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council to develop it further, particularly in terms of the wider context of the Swansea Bay City Region.
The work of the procurement work stream has continued and as part of this the Welsh Government will be interrogating its own planned projects in terms of steel requirements. A register of major construction frameworks across Wales has been compiled, enabling the steel sector to discuss supply chain opportunities. We will also be reviewing the business case and grant approval process for major programmes, such as 21st Century Schools, in terms of a requirement to consider use of sustainable and responsibly sourced steel, in line with our procurement policy.
In addition, the Finance Minister has commissioned a review of Community Benefits procurement policy, providing the opportunity to strengthen the link to the UK Charter for Sustainable British Steel.
The Health work stream is currently mapping physical and emotional well-being support to ensure that access to support is available at the right time. They are also liaising closely with the Occupational Health team in Tata.
Lord Bourne advised the Task Force that whilst there remained work to be done at a UK level, progress had been made on areas such as low energy costs, anti dumping and procurement. He stressed the importance that the UK Government places on the role of procurement and highlighted that 60% of the materials being used at Hinckley Point is predicted to be British manufactured.
I mentioned in my Statement to Members at the beginning of February that discussions have been taking place with Lord Davies of Abersoch about options and ideas for regionally focussed economic development for the area. I am pleased to say that the Terms of Reference for this work have now been agreed and Lord Davies will be considering the challenges and opportunities for employment, investment and growth around the Port Talbot area.
The work will examine the economic context, identify good practice from elsewhere, with a focus on driving local and regional growth. There will also be a detailed examination of the area, looking at initiatives already in place and potential clusters of activity that could be encouraged to create enterprise and employment. The work will examine the potential to attract investment from international funding streams such as World Bank, International Finance Corporation, European Investment Bank and other sources.
Recommendations will be presented to the incoming Government, following the National Assembly for Wales Elections in May. It will be for the incoming Minister to decide how to take these forward. I would like to put on record now, my appreciation of the time and enthusiasm that Lord Davies will bring to this work.
Last week saw the publication of the Swansea Bay City Deal bid, which could lever in significant investment for Wales supporting around 39,000 jobs in the region. The Bid, which includes energy as one of its key priorities, comes at a time when we are fighting for every job in the steel industry and its supply chain. The Internet Coast vision and the three integrated strands of energy, health and economic acceleration align with some of our key priorities. I am particularly impressed by the fact that while the proposition is bold, outward facing and ambitious, it is also grounded in the assets and geography of the Swansea Bay region. It reflects the very significant impact Sir Terry has made leading the City Region.
Yesterday I attended the first meeting of the joint Steel Council, which was chaired by the Business Secretary Sajid Javid and Jon Bolton of UK Steel.
The Council brings together industry, trade unions, UK Government and Ministers from the Devolved Administrations.
The discussions at the meeting were constructive, but I, and others continue to press for further action to be taken by the UK Government to secure the future of the steel industry.
I will Chair the next meeting of the Tata Task Force over the coming weeks and will receive the next update from the work streams which will meet regularly in the intervening period. By then, the formal consultation that Tata is holding regarding the proposed redundancies will have been undertaken and I will be in a position to provide a fuller update to Members.