THE Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, has delivered a direct message to the Government over its handling of the steel crisis: if you can save the banks, you can save the steel industry.
Speaking at the Governing Body (GB) of the Church in Wales, in Llandudno, Dr Morgan, said: “If the banking industry — which still does not fully appreciate the extent of its rescue judging by the behaviour of some of its members — was deemed worth saving, surely it is worth securing a sustainable future for the steel industry in Wales and the UK.”
Dr Morgan, who is Bishop of Llandaff, the diocese that includes Port Talbot, where 4000 steelworkers at the Tata plant are among those threatened with redundancy, told the GB on Wednesday: “It is not merely a crisis for Port Talbot and Shotton, or even Wales: it is a national crisis.”
He said that business rates in the British steel industry were much higher than those in some parts of the EU, and that the energy costs per tonne of steel made in the UK were more than twice those of Germany. “Other countries have imposed tariffs on imports, and massively subsidised steel production.”
The shutdown of the British steel industry would have far-reaching repercussions on the economy and industry. “It will be too late by then, and people in places like Port Talbot, whose lives and communities have been shaped by the steel industry, will have been crushed.”
On Wednesday, the business Secretary, Sajid Javid, said after returning from talks in India that the process of selling Tata Steel's UK plants was to begin by this coming Monday. He said that a number of parties had come forward, including Liberty Steel. Tata had told Mr Javid that the company would allow a "reasonable amount of time" for the sale process, he said.
Dr Morgan paid tribute to the work of the churches in Port Talbot when the announcement of 750 redundancies was made, just after Christmas. It led to the creation of a 16-strong ministry team to assist Tata’s industrial chaplain, the Revd Rick Hayes, to support people who were struggling with stress. A debt-advice centre was also set up, and more foodbanks opened for the extra demand that is being expected.
This week, Mr Hayes, who works as a training co-ordinator for Tata, said: “It’s an unknown time for us. We have just gone through the redundancies, and those that weren’t selected thought they had jobs; now none of us know we have jobs.
”I am a shoulder for people to cry on, and that’s happening quite a lot at the moment. Even I don’t know if I shall be here in a few weeks. There is talk of buy-outs, and meetings are going on, but none of us are any the wiser.”
The churches in Port Talbot are planning a community service on Sunday 24 April at the town’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Mr Hayes said: “It will give people a bit of a boost because it will show them that the local community is standing by them. We want to let people know that they are not alone, It’s a wonderful way for the churches to come forward and show people they care.”
The Vicar of Port Talbot, the Revd Mark Williams, said that his message to the steel workers was simply: “We’re walking alongside you. This is our Emmaus moment, as Jesus walked alongside followers on the road to Emmaus, so we are walking alongside the steelworkers, listening, praying, and supporting them, and offering them fresh hope.
“It is all very uncertain at the moment. This time last week it was the depths of gloom because the plant was possibly going to shut straight away, but now everyone is wondering if there is someone who will buy it. It’s so fluid: it’s a bit of a rollercoaster. Everybody is very aware that the works is the heart of the community. Some have already been made redundant, and others are now facing the future not knowing if they have got a future.
“But everybody recognises that whatever happens, the works isn’t going to stay the same. Even if somebody buys it, they won’t be able to sustain it in its current form: nobody can lose a million pounds a day.”