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NEW START FOR STEEL COMMUNITIES

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A comprehensive package of measures to help communities hit hard by last year's devastating redundancies announced ...
A comprehensive package of measures to help communities hit hard by last year's devastating redundancies announced by Corus has been hailed as a new start for Welsh steel communities by first minister Rhodri Morgan.

In a statement to the assembly to mark the first anniversary of the 3,000 Corus job losses in Wales, Mr Morgan said that a concerted Team Wales drive has resulted in a package involving accelerated infrastructure investment and education and training measures. 850 of the redundant steelworkers have already found new jobs.

The measures are funded through a£66 million aid package announced last May which was boosted by the additional£26 million announced by the finance minister later in the year.

New measures announced today include: the sub-regional regeneration framework for South East Wales; the regeneration measures for Blaenau Gwent including the reopening of a passenger rail line between Ebbw Vale and Cardiff; the Ebbw Vale Learning Campus to provide enhanced education and training facilities in the area and an urban regeneration company for the Newport area. He also announced the accelerated development of new business and industrial premises capable of accommodating thousands of new jobs.

Mr Morgan said: 'Nothing can take away the body blow suffered by the steel-making communities of Wales with the Corus job losses announcement in February last year. But we are now seeing real results from our Team Wales approach and there is reason for optimism in our steel communities.'

The first minister said that to date some 850 workers identified for redundancy have already secured new jobs. He paid tribute to partners ELWa, the Employment Service, The Benefits Agency and Careers Wales for their immediate and first class response in terms of training and advice. Mr Morgan said that between them, the agencies have:

* Dealt with 12,000 enquiries

* Provided rapid access guidance services with 750 workers participating in training to improve their employability

* Provided access to support aimed at removing barriers to getting alternative jobs for around 650 workers

Jane Davidson, minister for education and lifelong learning said: 'On-site advice and guidance on training, jobsearch, careers advice and help with CV preparation gave vital support as soon as the people under notice of redundancy needed it. Other measures included immediate access to Work Based Learning for adults, short up-skilling courses, assistance with travel and childcare costs and incentives to employers. An ISTC learning scheme has also started to identify and train 50 Corus employees to be advocates to help their colleagues into learning. I am pleased too that seven former Corus employees have enrolled as students at the University of Wales College Newport. The new innovative and exciting learning proposals announced today will form an important part of these vital regeneration plans.'

Mr Morgan also said that in addition to the direct job losses announced by Corus there had also been a negative impact on their suppliers. He said 128 supply chain companies were hit by the closures and the WDA is working closely with more than 100 of them to provide assistance and support wherever possible.

One of the key priorities of the Welsh assembly government is the regeneration of steel communities. Mr Morgan announced:

A new Regeneration Framework for South East Wales which will address the needs of workers facing redundancy and the wider regeneration of communities. The South East Wales Regeneration Framework will be published in February.

A new Urban Regeneration Company for the Newport area to promote industrial and physical regeneration and bring forward development opportunities for which the Assembly Government has allocated£10 million with match-funding from the WDA in the first three years.

£7m funding for the first phase of reopening a passenger train service to Ebbw Vale with a single track passenger service to Cardiff.

£5m for the Ebbw Vale Learning Campus to provide a post-16 Learning and Training facility, administrative centre for the proposed community learning network and small incubator business units.

£2m funding for a Community Learning Network to drive a substantial increase in participation in higher education and training opportunities. A network of community learning centres will provide access to learning opportunities from basic literacy up to degree standards with training tailored to the needs of local employers.

£3.5m to support ICT infrastructure across the sub-region with support for the Valleys Innovation, Technology and Communication Centre.

£4million for the regeneration of Gorseinon following the closure of the

Bryngwyn plant with a new Regeneration Forum established to take this forward.

£2.4m for the creation of a Social Development Fund to support social enterprise projects and linked to physical improvements to town centres. Funding will initially concentrate on Blaenau Gwent and in particular Ebbw Vale.

£1m to Flintshire CC to provide advice and support services to Corus employees affected by redundancies.

A range of other projects worth£2m have also been agreed.

A new Five Counties Regeneration Forum comprising the counties of Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Monmouthshire, Newport and Torfaen as well as the WDA, ELWa and the Welsh assembly government to track progress of the regeneration of South East Wales.

New business and industrial premises being planned by the WDA capable of accommodating several thousand jobs at Rhyd-y-Blew and the Victoria Business Park in Ebbw Vale, the Rising Sun Industrial Estate at Blaina, Llantarnam Industrial park at Cwmbran, Oakdale near Blackwood and Queensway Meadows at Newport.

Details of further projects funded by the aid package will be announced at a later date.

Funding of the Ebbw Vale railway line has been warmly welcomed by environment minister Sue Essex. She said: 'This is a welcome boost for local people as jobs will be much more accessible when this important public transport link is in place. It will open up the area and will be a real incentive for businesses to invest in Ebbw Vale and the surrounding area.'

Mr Morgan said: 'The response to the Corus job losses has resulted in an unprecedented level of partnership working across a range of bodies. This is a remarkable testimony to those involved and is one of the key reasons we have been able to deliver a strong programme of regeneration for the people and their communities.' He paid tribute to the effort and wholehearted support given to this major project by the Local Authorities, the WDA, ELWa, the Employment Service, Benefits Agency, Careers Wales, the TUC and ISTC and Corus.

In conclusion, Mr Morgan said: 'There are no quick fixes to problems as entrenched as those of our long neglected industrial communities. But I believe that this programme represents a new start and the strongest possible faith in the future of these communities.'

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