27 Jun 2024

Welsh politicians debate Tata, NHS in Wales and betting scandal

Data Correspondent and Presenter

We spoke to the Secretary of State for Wales, David TC Davies, and Jo Stevens who’s the shadow Welsh secretary. We began with the news that Tata is taking steps to shut down the blast furnaces at its Port Talbot steel plant sooner than planned.

Ciaran Jenkins: Jo Stevens, to you first. You could be the Welsh secretary next Friday. Next Sunday, Tata could start this process sooner than planned. Would you be able to do anything to undo it?

Jo Stevens: What I would repeat to Tata, which is what I’ve been saying to them and Keir Starmer has been saying to them for many months, is please do not make any irreversible decisions before the election, and that would include shutting down the blast furnace early. And I would just urge them to sit round the table with the unions and try to negotiate a way out of this, because there are nearly 3,000 jobs at risk here, and I am concerned about people’s livelihoods right across South Wales.

Ciaran Jenkins: Sounds like they’ve made that irreversible decision, and that’s going to be 3,000 jobs lost, with the process starting at least two days into your tenure.

Jo Stevens: It doesn’t have to happen, and that’s why there should be grown-up discussions, sitting around the table to try to come to some agreement. This is not the way to deal with it.

Ciaran Jenkins: David TC Davies, you are the current Welsh secretary. This is in your inbox right now. What is your message to Tata Steel tonight?

David TC Davies: My message actually is that Tata Steel made it very clear some time ago that they were going to close those blast furnaces because they were losing a million and a half a day, and the UK government was willing to come up with a deal that involved half a billion pounds of investment to create an arc furnace. This deal will save 5,000 jobs. On top of that, we came forward with a fund worth £100 million, of which 80 was coming from UK government to support anyone losing their jobs, maybe 2,800 job losses. It was the only deal around, and I’m sorry that Labour have given false hope to people by suggesting that there is some other option out there that would have saved every single one of those jobs, because there isn’t and there never was. And Tata Steel have made that clear to me.

Ciaran Jenkins: Are you still going to give them that half a billion pounds, given that they brought these plans forward? There are jobs on the line right now.

David TC Davies: The deal was very simple. Tata were originally planning to close down the blast furnaces and pull out of steelmaking completely in Wales. It would have cost 8,000 jobs and another 12,500 in the supply chain. The deal that we struck was that as they built an arc furnace, we would pay them half a billion pounds towards that. They would be contributing £750 million. So more than half of the cost. And that deal would save 5,000 jobs.

Ciaran Jenkins: Is that money still available?

David TC Davies: That deal is still available, of course it is, because we want to save as many jobs as possible, and what we don’t want to do is undermine investment worth £1.2 billion and 5,000 jobs.

Ciaran Jenkins: Let’s move on to the election because Wales is right at the centre of this betting scandal. The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, says he’s furious about it. The candidate in the safest Tory seat in Wales is implicated in this, and Rishi Sunak says he can’t support him. Are you furious?

David TC Davies: I’ve seen what’s gone on. I know there are two Conservative candidates who’ve been suspended and one Labour candidate suspended somewhere else, not in Wales. The fact of the matter is, I feel very disappointed by what’s gone on, but there are a number of scandals going on at the moment, and every political party needs to recognise that there are people who’ve not lived up to the sort of standards that we would like, including the Labour Party at the moment, whose own first minister is refusing to acknowledge a vote of no confidence after he took £200,000 from a convicted criminal whose company had received £400,000 from the Welsh government state-backed bank.

Ciaran Jenkins: Let’s ask Labour about Labour then, shall we? Jo Stevens, David TC Davies was saying that the Welsh Labour first minister has lost a vote of confidence in the Senedd. But on top of that, Wales has got the worst performing schools in the UK and the longest waiting times in history in Wales in the NHS. Is that a record, especially in schools and education, that you’re proud of?

Jo Stevens: Waiting lists in Wales, compared to England, they are growing in England more than eight times faster than in Wales. We have reduced ours by 70%, our long waiting times in the NHS in Wales. We’ve got 310,000 more people able to access a dentist because we’ve renegotiated dental contracts. And on education, I am really sick and tired of hearing the Tories doing down our teachers, our teaching staff and our children, who went through such a difficult time during Covid. They deserve our respect, not to be criticised all the time.

Ciaran Jenkins: Is that a yes? You’re proud of Labour’s record on schools and hospitals and the NHS in Wales?

Jo Stevens: I accept, as the Welsh government accept, that there is more to do. But there are struggles. There are struggles across every part of the UK in terms of education and NHS services. The last time we had two Labour governments at both ends of the M4, we had the shortest waiting lists in history and the highest patient satisfaction in the history of the NHS. We’ve done it before, we can do it again.

Ciaran Jenkins: David TC Davies, if voters in Wales are wanting a change, is that change to kick the Conservatives out of office?

David TC Davies: I’m sorry, but we’ve actually had a Labour government here in Wales for 25 years, so we in Wales know exactly what the blueprint that Keir Starmer refers to actually is. And it is. Jo can’t get away from this – 20,000 people have been waiting more than two years for treatment in a nation of three million people. It’s not the Conservatives who are saying we’ve got lower educational standards, it’s the OECD, and Jo can’t even bring herself to acknowledge this. Then on top of this, we see money being thrown away on things like £120 million for extra Senedd members. That is money that could have gone into Port Talbot to support steelworks and instead we’re getting extra politicians. We’ve got this ludicrous blanket 20 mile an hour limit across the whole of Wales, which nobody wants. Half a million people signed a petition calling for that to be scrapped and Labour aren’t listening. This is the blueprint for the rest of the United Kingdom, and that’s why when I go out and I’m talking to people, I’m hearing a lot of people say yes, people have had concerns over things that have happed over the last five years, but a great deal of concern at the moment about this Labour government’s policies.

Ciaran Jenkins: Let’s let Jo Stevens respond.

Jo Stevens: What you’re not hearing from the Conservatives in this general election campaign is anything about their record in government, and the reason for that is it’s been catastrophic for the country, including here in Wales. Crashed the economy, people are living with the consequences of that every day. And if in their manifesto, they can find this £71 billion of unfunded spending commitments, they’ll do exactly what Liz Truss did all over again.

Ciaran Jenkins: Hang on, they’re your numbers and we know all about numbers in this election.

Jo Stevens: No, these are unfunded spending commitments, they are savings they can’t find and commitments they can’t pay for.

Ciaran Jenkins: Jo Stevens, you have a record to defend here. You’ve been in power for 25 years. And as you heard there, there’s no getting away from it, two year waits in the NHS in Wales, more than 20,000 people, in England it’s 200 and something.

Jo Stevens: Welsh Government have invested £1 billion extra in order to bring down the backlog from the pandemic, and as I’ve said, they have come down from their longest waits by 70%. They would be the first to acknowledge that there’s more to do. But the fact is the Conservatives can’t run on their record because they have no record to be proud of. They achieved nothing.

Ciaran Jenkins: Final word from David TC Davies. Are you proud of your record, and has it been a good campaign for Rishi Sunak?

David TC Davies: Absolutely. We’ve got inflation running at 2%. We’ve got unemployment running at 3%. We’ve got the joint fastest growth in the whole of the G7 along with Canada. The economic record is very good. This is what is going to change if there is a Labour government, because they have got £8.5 billion of completely unfunded spending commitments, which is going to result in extra taxes or extra borrowing.