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Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 15:31 GMT
Byers: Think again, Corus
Llanwern steelworks
Llanwern near Newport: Worker buyout rejected
The company responsible for the latest 6,000 job losses in the British steel industry must think again and keep the plants open, says the government.

Trade Secretary Stephen Byers appealed to steel company Corus not to make what he called a "short-term response" to its trading difficulties by axing the jobs, which will hit Wales hardest with the entire closure of the highly productive Llanwern steelworks in south Wales.


I urge Corus to think again and work with us to identify a better way forward

Stephen Byers
The tin-plating factory at Ebbw Vale will be closed, as will plants in Deeside, Teesside, and Bryngwyn, along with job losses in many other parts of the business.

In a Commons statement on the job cuts to furious MPs, Mr Byers voiced his own anger at Corus's behaviour, saying its bosses failed to discuss the closure plans with the government.

"Today's announcement by Corus stands in stark contrast to other manufacturing companies who are prepared to take a long term view," he said.

The trade secretary promised that the government would not "walk away" from those who lost their jobs and held out the prospect of future aid.

Stephen Byers
Stephen Byers: Shares workers' anger
But he appealed to the Anglo-Dutch company, which includes the former British Steel, to reconsider a bid by the workforce to take over the Llanwern plant.

Approach rejected

Mr Byers told MPs Corus had rejected the approach because they did not want anyone competing with them.

"On behalf of 6,000 steelworkers, their families and the communities in which they live, I urge Corus to think again and work with us to identify a better way forward," he said.

Discussion 'refused'

To cries of "Shame!" and "Disgraceful!" Mr Byers said: "Relevant information has not been disclosed. They have been resistant to any meaningful dialogue and have even refused to discuss in detail their plans for the industry.

"We have expressed our concerns to the company about this lack of information at the highest possible level."

The trade secretary conceded that Corus was facing tough trading conditions and it was up to firms to take commercial decisions.

"But in this case capacity will be reduced and thousands of jobs lost as a result of a short-term response to the difficulties they face."

But there was also a veiled threat that if Corus refused to think again then it must meet its obligations.

Clean-up costs

"It must pay the costs of the clean-up of the sites involved in today's announcement. It should then release them quickly and play its part in helping the communities affected," he said.

Richard Livsey
Richard Livsey: Blames not joining euro
For the Conservatives, David Heathcoat-Amory said the closures and job losses were a devastating blow to the workers affected.

But he claimed it was a symptom of a wider problem -- the government's failure to support manufacturing industry.

"I hope that Corus does think again but the government must think again as well," he said.

He blamed many of industry's problems on high transport costs and on increased costs of regulation.

'Ironmasters'

Liberal Democrat MP Richard Livsey said Corus management had behaved "like a bunch of nineteenth century ironmasters", but he blamed Britain's failure to join the euro for many of the steel industry's problems.

"At the crux of this is the euro and the exchange rate that has caused every tonne of steel made in Britain to make a loss for the last eighteen months," he said.

Paul Flynn
Paul Flynn: "Butchery"
The local Labour MP for the Llanwern steelworks in south Wales, Paul Flynn, said the plant had the highest of productivity levels and was a "brilliant success for Britain".

"We have seen the butchery of the steel industry today. Corus have callously and cynically manipulated the position for the benefit of a single company.

"Corus has an undeveloped social conscience but a highly developed sense of greed," he said.

Government 'sidelined'

The Labour chairman of the cross-party trade and industry committee, Martin O'Neill, said he was shocked by the job cuts.

The government had been sidelined and Corus had rejected offers of support out of hand. He urged the company to allow efforts to save the threatened steel plants.

"If and when we join the euro, we can then take advantage of the new opportunities," he said.

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See also:

01 Feb 01 | Wales
Mighty steel dies like coal
01 Feb 01 | Business
Corus cuts 6,000 steel jobs
29 Jan 01 | Business
Europe's core of steel
26 Jan 01 | Wales
Morgan's 'hope' for steel jobs
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