Tata Steel Britain
The sun rises behind the Tata steelworks in Port TalbotMatt Cardy/Getty Images

The news that Tata Steel is set to sell its Port Talbot site following months of speculation represents a crisis not only for the industry, but for the whole economy of the south of Wales.

The communities in which I grew up boast a history of producing the fuel which once fired the economic engine of the world – coal and steel alike – but these towns and villages are all too familiar with having their fate sealed by forces far removed from the devastating consequences of industry collapse.

As the 4,000-strong workforce of Port Talbot alongside their colleagues in Trostre and Shotton face continued uncertainty, the priority must now be for the Welsh Government to take decisive action to secure a stake in the plant.

Plaid Cymru was among the first to recall the National Assembly in order to coordinate an urgent political response to the situation. This is now set to take place on Monday (4 April).

It was positive to see a change of heart by the Welsh and UK governments when they declared support for temporary nationalisation, a proposal first put forward Plaid Cymru but initially dismissed by administrations at both ends of the M4.

Steel crisis: Tata's impact on Britain's steel industry in numbersIBTimes UK

Another option is a joint venture between Tata and the Welsh Government, as advocated by Plaid Cymru several months ago. This would allow Welsh steel to weather the tough period dictated by the global downturn in demand. Such a venture would see the Welsh public sector taking a majority interest while the operational side stayed in Tata's hands. The Welsh Government's share of investment should not only finance losses but also invest in restructuring the business, improving its sustainability and resilience to any future risks.

There are clear EU precedents for saving operations through temporary nationalisation by putting the industry in state hands. At present, EU rules on state aid mean that the operating aid to make up for losses for steel works with no proposal of viability is illegal. However, investment aid by governments to steel companies to improve long term competitiveness is permissible, as is help with reducing environmental costs.

The government of Lower Saxony in Germany did just that in 1998, with the Italian government having done the same in 2014.

Even more recently, the Scottish government has offered a blueprint for securing the future of the UK steel industry only last week with the sale of two mothballed Tata sites – Dalzell and Clydebridge.

Tata Steel crisis: Community Union calls for support from UK governmentIBTimes UK

Another area in which the UK government could take action is procurement by ensuring stronger support for local procurement of steel in infrastructure and public sector purchasing. Critically, this could also creative a new source of local demand for steel in giving the green light to the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project.

I am confident that with the right investment, the steel industry will have a future in Wales. We owe it to the thousands of workers whose livelihoods depend on the actions of us as politicians over the coming days and weeks not to lose heart.

As the National Assembly reconvenes next week, Members of all parties must leave their partisanship at the chamber door. If the steel workers' fight has shown us anything, it is that unity gives rise to strength.

The process of protecting these jobs and securing the Port Talbot plant will not come easily, nor will it come cheap. But a crisis of this magnitude begs the question – can we afford not to take action? No is the simple answer. We've been there before and we don't want to go there again.

The closure of Port Talbot not only threatens dire economic consequences but social ones too. Mass unemployment can often have a negative impact on health and wellbeing, chipping away at a community's collective morale.

Reports of a UK government buy-out are be welcomed, but if this vital industry is to survive then its future must not be at the behest of a Westminster administration with little understanding of the needs and demands of the Welsh economy.

A successful solution to this crisis will require dynamism and determination. The onus is now on the Welsh Government to accept its responsibilities and to demonstrate such an approach without delay.


Leanne Wood is Leader of Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales