Monday, 14 November 2016

It’s not only Nissan that needs a deal

Published in Llanelli Herald on 11th November 2016

Though the fate of our steelworks have disappeared from the headlines the crisis facing the industry is still very real.

The underlying challenges steel manufacturing in the UK remain, in fact the uncertainty about what happens to our economy after we’ve pulled out of the EU has added some extra challenges in for good measure.

Not that you’ll hear the UK Government talk much about how it can help salvage our steel industry. They have taken action to protect the car industry - which remains important to us locally.

Ministers have given guarantees to Nissan in order to secure the future of the huge factory in Sunderland that if there are barriers to trade with Europe after we’ve pulled out the EU the UK Government will compensate the Japanese company.

It may well prove to be a very expensive promise. Compensating the foreign owned firm for any taxes that are put on car exports could well amount to hundreds of millions of pounds every year being passed on to Nissan’s shareholders from the UK taxpayer if the Brexit  negotiations don’t go out way.

It's just as important to safeguard our steel making industry as it to protect our car manufacturing base.  But while they’ve taken action on one, they only have words on the other. It's time Tory Ministers matched the efforts they’ve made for Nissan with real action to save our steel.

Whereas the UK Business Secretary travelled to make promises to the Nissan Chief Executive, Carlos Ghosn, to secure the manufacture of two new models in their Sunderland plant, the recent meeting between Tata and Welsh Government officials revealed that UK Ministers have not taken action to secure the future of steel manufacturing in Wales.

Ken Skates, the Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Economy & Infrastructure, recently met with Tata UK Chief Executive Mr Bimlendra Jha and told me that Tata are not getting the same kind of promises from the Prime Minister. When Carwyn Jones met Theresa May recently he said how important it was that other manufacturing industries get a clear steer from her about their future, but she was short on detail.

The Welsh Labour Government have set out to Tata our commitment to the Steel industry - including reducing business rates, alleviating energy costs and examining how procurement practice can be better used to support Welsh steel. But the Tories must match that with a fair solution for the British Steel Pension Scheme and tariff free access of the single market.

And, crucially, we need the option of a management buyout back on the table.

This isn’t an issue that can be kicked into the long grass. Theresa May must prove her mettle.

Lee Waters is Welsh Labour AM for Llanelli

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