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Tata Steelworks: Newport

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Opposition Whip (Commons), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee) 4:00 pm, 8th October 2019

My hon. Friend is indeed a doughty and fantastic champion of his steel community, and the thoughts of our steel community are very much with his community and the difficulties it has had recently. I will talk about the Syndex report, because it is very important.

The attendance of my hon. Friends from Wales and fellow members of the all-party parliamentary group on steel and metal related industries represents the importance of the steel industry to us all. As my hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds said, many of us have a constituency interest but also a very personal interest. My parents met in the steel industry in Ebbw Vale, and my hon. Friends have close family who have worked in the industry, including my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan.

Fewer work places are more ingrained into the life of Newport than Orb. Our iconic transporter bridge was originally built to carry Orb workers over the River Usk. There are street names in Newport such as Dudley, Walsall, Bilston, and Handsworth, and even the Wolverhampton Wanderers-based colours chosen for Newport County AFC commemorate the west midlands migration to Gwent initiated by the Lysaghts family moving their sheet steel production to Newport at the end of the 19th century. Orb played an important role in Newport in both world wars and, from the late 1960s onwards, its activities moved towards cold rolled and electrical steels, a field that became the site’s speciality, as it remains today.

Losing Orb would mean losing the electrical steels skills base that has been built up since the era of Harold Wilson’s “white heat” of technology, and at a time when electrical steels will be more in demand that ever before. Tata’s decision to close Orb, citing losses and wider challenges in the sector, will hit many people in our communities extremely hard. They include recent recruits such as an electrician who joined the company two days before the announcement and is one of 70 new starters over the last two years, and a long-time worker who says, “Orb works has been a part of my family for nearly 60 years. Between my father and brothers we have over 100 years’ combined service. The Orb paid for everything when I was a child and is now supporting my three children.”

Another man’s family came from Tipton; his great-grandfather, grandfather and father all worked there, and their names are on the works’ cenotaph. Mickey, who started work as a 16-year-old messenger boy and ended up as section manager, said, “To allow over 100 years of electrical steelmaking skills simply to disappear is a crime against everyone who contributed to Orb’s history, and the knock-on effect on the Newport community’s economy will be devastating, as these jobs are of high value.”