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Tomorrow will be the first anniversary of the announcement by Corus of the loss of 6,000 jobs, nearly half of them in Wales with an additional 1000 jobs from the number of sub-contractors whose services were no longer required. This amounted to one of the largest single blows to Welsh manufacturing or Welsh employment in recent years.
On 8 November, in the worst steel disaster of recent years, 3 men were killed and 12 injured in a massive explosion in Blast Furnace number 5 in Corus’ Port Talbot Plant. Tragedy came on top of massive lay offs in one of the most difficult years in the long history of the Welsh steel industry.
Nothing can take away the body blow suffered by the steel-making communities of Wales with the Corus job losses announcement in February last year. Now there is some reason for optimism in our steel communities. Today I am able to announce a far-reaching and comprehensive package for the regeneration of steel communities. I shall come to the details in a moment.
The original aid package which I announced on 3 May 2001 provided £66 million both to support those facing redundancy and the communities hit by the closures. £50 million of this funding was from the Assembly and £16 million from the UK Government. A further £26 million was announced by the Minister for Finance bringing the funding from the Assembly Government to a total of £76 million.
The training and advice provided for steel workers through ELWa, the Employment Service, the Benefits Agency and Careers Wales, was made available very speedily. The on-site Advice Centres and a range of local community outlets supported through the Learndirect helpline, ELWa, the Employment Service and Careers Wales have dealt with well over 12,000 enquiries. There has been rapid access to adult guidance services resulting in over 750 workers participated in training to enhance their employability and around 650 accessed wider support aimed at removing barriers to getting alternative jobs. To date, some 850 of those identified for redundancy have secured alternative jobs.
This is a considerable achievement given the scale of the job losses and is a testament to the effectiveness of the teamwork between the agencies involved in delivery but also to the determination and resilience of the steelworkers affected.
I would also like to underline the innovative nature of some aspects of our response. For example, we have provided £300,000 over three years under the Wales Union Learning Fund to enable the ISTC to provide training for learning advocates in communities affected by steel closures. This project will run for three years.
However, this is not a time for complacency. The redundancy programme continues with around 140 people scheduled to leave Llanwern in April and approximately 450 at Ebbw Vale in July. The on-site Advice Centres will again be available in both locations to help those who need it.
In addition to the direct job losses announced by Corus of its own staff there was the negative impact on the supply chain. We asked the Welsh Development Agency to identify and offer assistance to these suppliers to ensure that impact was minimised. 128 companies were identified by Corus of which some 100 agreed to meet with the WDA in conjunction with the local enterprise agencies. Many follow-up meetings have been held and work continues to assist and support the companies wherever possible.
The closure of the Bryn Gwyn plant impacted on Gorseinon, and some £4 million has been made available to assist the renewal of the town. A Regeneration Forum has been established which includes representatives of all interested parties, and a Regeneration Strategy is being prepared. A Regeneration Officer has been appointed and support is already flowing to assist in the regeneration of the commercial area of the centre of the town.
Members will recall that, in June 2000, Corus announced a raft of cutbacks and the closure of their Welsh R&D Centre, at Port Talbot. This was a blow to our aspirations to enhance Wales’s capacity for R&D. We therefore sought alternative uses for the facility to retain the expertise that has been established over the many years and build upon the strong academic links that the Centre had.
With funding from the Recovery Package, terms have been agreed to acquire the facility and establish an Advanced Technology Centre. Significant interest has been shown from major national institutions to locate at the facility and also to expand the involvement of academia across all the South Wales universities. This is an exciting and challenging project and the WDA will be appointing a Chief Operating Officer to develop the initiative within the next few weeks.
Inevitably, the great bulk of the resources provided by the Welsh Assembly Government have been directed towards the regeneration of the communities most directly affected by the Corus job cuts. The ambitious Team Wales Regeneration Framework for South East Wales is now ready for full implementation. This Framework derives its methodology from the innovative response made by the All Wales Steel Task Force which was set up in the summer of 2000 to address the first wave of Corus job losses. The Task Force recommended a holistic approach that encompasses both the individual Corus worker facing redundancy as well as the larger community. The final report is due for publication in February.
Using the funds set aside to deal with the redundancies, we have agreed to fund a number of exciting initiatives which have been recommended in the regeneration strategy.
We propose to put in pump-priming money for an Urban Regeneration Company for the Newport area. This will promote the industrial as well as physical regeneration and bring forward development opportunities. The boundaries and remit of the URC will be subject to a further detailed report currently underway. We are allocating £10 million, and the funding in the first three years will be matched by the WDA. Value realised from development over the initial three year period will be recycled to fund future years of the URC’s activities.
In line with our commitment to improving the transport links of the area in a sustainable way, we propose to fund the first phase of reopening a passenger train service to Ebbw Vale. This will involve opening up a single track passenger service to Cardiff. Later phases are likely to link with the TIGER and SWIFT strategies. We are committing £7 million to this project over the next two years.
In order to establish better education facilities in the area, we intend to contributing to the Ebbw Vale Learning Campus. This development will consist of a post-16 Learning and Training facility, an administrative centre for the proposed community learning network and small incubator business units. This will be the first phase of the re-development of the Ebbw Vale Site for which we are providing funding of £5 million over the next 3 years. I would also say in the context of Ebbw Vale that we will be making sure that Corus meets its obligations in terms of site redemption.
To support the lifelong learning ethos, we plan to fund a Community Learning Network. This will involve the creation of a network of community learning centres throughout the sub-region to drive a substantial increase in participation in high quality education and training opportunities. The centres will provide access to learning opportunities from basic literacy up to modular degree standards. Where appropriate, the centres will offer training tailored to the needs of local employers. The proposed Learning Campus at Ebbw Vale will act as an administrative centre and will be responsible for networking and the dissemination of good practice. We are committing £2 million to this initiative over the next two years.
We intend to provide and support ICT infrastructure across the sub-region, with additional support to promote the use of ICT and e-procurement initiatives. Support for the Valleys Innovation, Technology and Communication Centre is included. The roll-out of ICT infrastructure will concentrate in the first instance in Blaenau Gwent. We are committing £3.5 million to this project over the next two years.
It is also important to support community initiatives in the area, and we intend to fund the creation of a Social Enterprise Development Fund to support the activities of existing Development Trusts and other Social Enterprise projects. This will be linked with physical improvements to town centres. Funding will initially concentrate on Blaenau Gwent and in particular Ebbw Vale. We are committing £2.4 million to this project over the next two years.
A range of other projects worth over £2 million has also been agreed. We are also examining a number of other initiatives which have emerged from the regeneration strategy, and will be making further announcements in due course.
A significant outcome of the whole exercise to produce the Regeneration Framework is that the counties involved, that is Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Monmouthshire, Newport and Torfaen have agreed to set up a Five Counties Regeneration Forum which will also include representatives from the WDA, ELWa and the Welsh Assembly Government. The Board will meet regularly to track the progress of key regeneration. This will be a major opportunity to put together a comprehensive strategy to shake off decades of slow growth and over-dependence on the basic industries of coal and steel.
The WDA is already planning the development of business and industrial premises capable of accommodating several thousand jobs at Rhyd-y-Blew and the Victoria Business Park, Ebbw Vale, the Rising Sun Industrial Estate at Blaina, Llantarnam Industrial Park at Cwmbran, Oakdale near Blackwood and Queensway Meadows at Newport. Discussions are continuing on a range of other projects.
Thankfully, even in these difficult times, job losses continue to be matched by job gains and I have asked the WDA and Flintshire County Council to maintain the momentum of their economic development programmes. Additionally, we have provided £1 million to Flintshire to provide advice and personal support services to Corus employees affected by redundancies.
We commissioned a valuable study into the effect on communities of job losses in the steel industry. The findings of this work have resulted in most of its recommendations being accepted. An action plan has been agreed and this is being implemented by the Assembly Government and its partners. Progress will be monitored by the Steel Task Force and its Executive Group
Corus has committed to rebuild Blast Furnace number five at Port Talbot with a slightly larger capacity than before and with improved emissions standards that demonstrate how heavy industry can adapt to the environmental expectations of the modern world. This is sustainable development in the best and widest sense. The Welsh Assembly Government is not going to let Corus off the hook in terms of its obligations toward reinstating the sites, which will have great significance for the future prosperity of their local communities.
Manufacturing in Wales accounts for over 18% of employment, well above the UK average. It is a vital source of our national wealth. Steel is a major part of this and, I believe, will continue to be so for many years ahead. Yesterday I met Tony Peddar, Chief Executive of Corus, along with the company’s most senior man in Wales, Mark Carr, Managing Director of Strip Products and Stuart Pettifor of the Company’s Strip Business Unit. Though very much aware of the enormous challenges facing their industry they left me in no doubt about their commitment to Wales as a place where world-class steel production can take place.
The new blast furnace which will be constructed at Port Talbot will not only be a memorial to those who lost their lives but also a symbol of the endurance of an industry vital to Wales and its continuing contribution in the years ahead to this country and the communities that serve it.
There are no quick fixes to problems as entrenched as those of our long neglected industrial communities. But I believe that the programme I have set out is a new start and the strongest possible expression of faith in the future of these communities.