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Monday, 11 November, 2002, 14:32 GMT
Buyer found for steel plant
Steelmaking is set to return to Cardiff after a Spanish firm signed a deal to buy Allied Steel and Wire.
Up to 600 steelworkers could be returning to work at the plant in Cardiff's docklands in the New Year if Barcelona-based company Celsa completes the deal to take over the troubled firm.
Receivers KPMG, which has been administering ASW since it went into receivership in July, revealed on Monday that it had entered into an exclusivity agreement with Celsa and hoped to hand over control of ASW by January 2003.
Around 800 workers lost their jobs at the company's Tremorfa and Castle works, but Celsa says it hopes to employ around 600 if the plant reopens next year.
Celsa runs plants in Barcelona and Santander in Spain and the company was involved in weeks of secret negotiations to take over the plant.
The Spanish firm said the transfer of the Castle Works properties to their control was "critical" and warned there was still a risk of transferring the plant's assets elsewhere if the venture proved unworkable.
Celsa controller Juan Carlos Rosco said: "We have first to ensure it will be successful. We need all the help possible from Cardiff council, the Environment Agency and various groups.
"We will looked for a combined management solution. We will send Spanish managers with experience of investments we have done in Spain."
Assembly First Minister Rhodri Morgan said he was delighted the deal had been made.
"We were told it was Celsa a month ago under terms of complete confidentiality," he said.
"I am very pleased we are able to proceed from here so that we can be back to producing steel in Cardiff.
"I think it would be amazing if they were able to re-employ everyone, but if they could take on two-thirds of that number, I think people would be happy."
One former ASW worker said his colleagues had felt "in limbo" during the protracted takeover talks process.
Bob Bird of the ISTC steel union warned it was not a "done deal" and said officials would be working hard to get the best possible deal for workers who could be re-employed at the plant.
Phil Jones, 54, a steelworker at ASW for 33 years, said: "Everyone is very pleased that a buyer has been found and steelmaking is coming back to Cardiff.
"We would welcome a meeting with Celsa to show our commitment and loyalty.
"We would also hope that everyone who was made redundant gets their old job back."
KPMG hopes the proposed deal will be finalised in January 2003, but the exact terms are subject to confidentiality clauses.
As part of the deal, ASW's sister plant at Sheerness in Kent, will close down with the loss of 190 jobs.
Richard Hill and Roger Oldfield, joint administrative receivers at KPMG Corporate Recovery, said: "We are pleased to announce the agreement reached today with Celsa Group and we hope that completion of the proposed sale will enable steelmaking to return to Cardiff.
"Clearly, we are saddened that we have had to take the decision to cease production at the Sheerness site, but we will continue to make strenuous efforts to save all that we can."
Welsh Economic Development Minister Andrew Davies added: "Today's announcement that the major Spanish steel maker Celsa is the prospective buyer of ASW's assets is a very important step forward.
"We now know formally who we are dealing with and that a final decision will be made in January.
"First Minister Rhodri Morgan and I will be discussing progress later today with a senior director of the company to hear at first hand Celsa's next steps.
"Those made redundant by ASW now know that discussions will continue until January.
"The Welsh Assembly Government's effort to convince Celsa that reopening the Cardiff plant will not only be good for the Welsh economy but exceptionally good for them, will see a major gear change now that we have formal confirmation of Grupo Celsa's involvement."
Juan Carlos Orozco, from Celsa, told BBC Radio Wales, the deal was not yet finalised, but he confirmed that if it goes ahead, the company hopes to create up to 600 jobs at the ASW site in Tremorfa.
Following the announcement of ASW's closure in July, the steelworkers received a further blow when they were told they would not receive their full company pensions due to a shortfall in the fund.
Their campaign to bring steelmaking back to Cardiff and to regain their pensions saw them hold a march through the city centre.
A delegation travelled to Blackpool to picket the Labour Party conference.
Bob Bird of the steelworkers' union the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, said: "We are pleased that a buyer has been found, but this has no bearing on the pensions situation."
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