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Page last updated at 16:37 GMT, Friday, 17 July 2009 17:37 UK
Save our Steel

Jermey Vine with Tony Kelly, Belinda Newton and Stephen Quick
Panorama's citizen journalists want to know how to protect their steelworks

As thousands of people fear job cuts in a global recession, one corner of Wales could soon see that fear become a reality. But it is not often that the people fearing the axe come face to face with the Mr Big who one day may have to wield it.

In Save Our Steel, Panorama gives three people the chance to take their questions to the top and make their case as to why their steel industry should be saved.

Port Talbot is the heart of steelmaking in Wales. Over 4,000 people are employed in the industry with hundreds of contractors and smaller firms relying on it for a living. For many it has almost been a family affair with generations passing through the the doors of the looming steelworks.

But the plummeting price of steel has led to owners Corus losing £1 million a day at this facility alone. The company is part of the Indian Tata Group. It is one of the world's biggest companies, making everything from Tetley teabags to Land Rovers.

Citizen journalists

Port Talbot has been hit hard by the recession. Unemployment here is particularly high with 22 people chasing every job, three times as many as the national average. Now three of its residents are out to discover what the future holds for the town and its people. Armed with a camera and a host of questions, Panorama will follow their journey that takes them from Wales to Westminster and on to Mumbai.

Port Talbot steelworks
Port Talbot employed 12,000 people during economic boom times

For Stephen Quick steelmaking is in the blood. He is the fourth generation of steelworkers from his family and is worried that the tradition will end with him.

"To think that I could be the last generation of my family who work in that place, it would be terrible," he says.

But for Tony Kelly, a job in the steel industry has already become a thing of the past. In January, Corus announced it was "mothballing" Port Talbot's sister plant, Llanwern, in Newport. Tony was one of hundreds of contractors to lose his job after 15 years working as welder.

He is now struggling to find work which is decently paid and does not involve distant travel.

"I think you could earn more money on a till to be honest, and I'm not degrading those jobs but having served an apprenticeship and worked so many years in the industry I can't believe these people get people working for them for these rates of pay," he says whilst looking through vacancies at the local job centre.

Tony visited Ebbw Vale for Panorama to see what happens to a town once its main industry closes. It is 20 miles (32km) away from Port Talbot and seven years ago the doors were shut on 200 years of steelmaking. Today, Blaenau Gwent has the highest rate of job seekers allowance claimants in the country with 43 people chasing every job advertised.

Town 'dying'

Visiting Ebbw Vale, Tony is devastated. "What's the future for the people of this town, the youngsters?" he asks.

It is a question bothering local Independent MP Dai Davies, once a steelworker himself, when he meets Tony. "Really the heart has been ripped out… and we are still waiting really for any investment to come in and replace it," he says.

Belinda in India looking over a slum
Belinda took her concerns to Mumbai, the home of Tata Steel

But it is not just steelworkers who are concerned. Belinda Newton works in the local community centre and cares deeply about the future of the steelworkers. She believes the industry is a vital part of Port Talbot's identity.

"I feel this town is dying on its feet. If we had investment from the steel would give confidence to other companies to come back and start afresh."

Belinda is taking her concerns to the top. Panorama goes with her as she heads for Mumbai where Tata Steel is based. It is a world away from her native Wales, but the place where her town's future could be decided.

Going Dutch

Back in Port Talbot, Tata have asked the UK government for support. It wants to keep the 24,000 UK workers employed by Corus skilled and ready for an upturn, similar to a scheme Holland has introduced where workers' jobs are protected by subsidies administered by the Dutch government.

Stephen, our steelworker from Port Talbot, wanted to put this suggestion to the Business Minister Pat McFadden. Panorama was told the minister would not be interviewed by our citizen journalist but would take questions from Jeremy Vine.

In a stroke of luck on arrival to the interview with Jeremy, Stephen was met by the minister and was able to put his questions directly to him. But Mr McFadden's answers did not exactly reassure Stephen.

"The best long-term solution to the steel-industry's problems is to have a demand for the products that steelmakers make. I think that's a better answer in the long run than a scheme that pays a proportion of wages for a few months," Mr McFadden said.

"We don't want to see anyone lose their job, I understand that but I don't think there's a government anywhere in the world that can say to people in the middle of the worst recession for decades (that) no one will lose their job."

The minister's words are a stark reminder that in a global recession the fate of these steelworkers is not isolated to their industry, or indeed, to Port Talbot.

Panorama: Save our Steel is on BBC One, Monday 20 July at 8.30pm.

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