Vaughan Gething flew upper class and stayed in luxury hotel for two-hour Tata meeting in India

Vaughan Gething
-Credit: (Image: Matt Horwood/Senedd)

Wales' First Minister Vaughan Gething and three other Welsh Government officials flew upper class on a trip to India where he met Tata bosses for two and a half hours. The First Minister and his officials flew the 4,500 miles to the Indian capital Mumbai and came back via British Airways business class.

However, our request to know the total cost of the travel, accommodation or additional costs of the trip was refused. The Welsh Government official responding has said it is not in the public interest to release that information as it will be released anyway in 10 months time at the end of the financial year.

The Indian steel giant will close two blast furnaces in Port Talbot this year, which will result in 1,900 direct job losses at Port Talbot but more on a wider scale. They say there is no choice as the site is losing £1m a day, but the Welsh and UK Labour administrations say they have an alternative plan - something Tata say is untenable. Union members are now due to go on an all out strike at the site from next month.

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The Welsh Conservatives were among those to criticise Mr Gething's trip saying it could have been carried out closer to home or online, saving taxpayer funds. Group leader Andrew RT Davies said: "This only confirms that the First Minister’s globetrotting is an attempt to divert from the crisis within his government. The cost of his plane ticket to India is the only cash the First Minister has put on the table for steel jobs, all for a meeting that could have been held in London."

In a Freedom of Information request, we asked for details of the trip, which Mr Gething defended in the face of criticism as important due to the impact it will have on Port Talbot and the wider area.

  • A list of the people who travelled with the First Minister to Mumbai in May 2024 including names and job titles of Welsh Government staff

  • The itinerary for the trip including travel (airline, class of ticket, hotel name) and the cost of each item

  • Spending incurred on the trip, including expenses incurred/claimed for, relevant details from staff credit card statement

  • A full list of meeting, their length, and location for each

Mr Gething travelled to Mumbai via Virgin upper class for a single meeting with the Indian steel giant, accompanied by three members of Welsh Government staff. He was joined by Dickie Davies, deputy director special projects and Welsh Government lead official for Tata Steel as well as a private secretary and a communications official.

The response explains that Mr Gething had a two-and-a-half hour meeting with Tata Steel. He also had a 30 minute "pre meet" with the India High Commission followed by 45 minutes of press interviews with UK press and 45 minutes with Indian press at a press conference.

Vaughan Gething meeting executives from Tata Steel in Mumbai
Vaughan Gething meeting executives from Tata Steel in Mumbai -Credit:Welsh Government

No answers were provided about the cost of the trip, under an exemption under the Freedom of Information request. The response from Dickie Davies, who was on the trip, reads: "I have concluded that the information you requested regarding travel and accommodation costs are exempt under Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act (2000), information intended for future publication. Details of ministerial visits overseas and gifts are published in line with the ministerial code and this information will be published with the next tranche of information in 2025."

Section 22 is a public interest test. "This means that in order to withhold information under its provisions, any personal interest of the requester notwithstanding, it has to be shown that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs that in releasing it," the response says.

It will, the response adds, be published online at the end of next financial year, in April 2025. "The Welsh Government acknowledges the public interest in openness and transparency, and it is a long-standing requirement that details of ministerial visits overseas, including the costs, are published in line with the ministerial code." For the latest politics news in Wales sign up to our newsletter here.

"Therefore, we believe the public interest would be better served in the information being published at the appropriate time. To that end, I believe the information should be withheld under s22 of the Act, until it is published in due course". WalesOnline is appealing the decision not to release the information.

Looking at dates on both airlines in a week's time, Virgin Atlantic's direct service to Mumbai varies between £611 in economy to £865 in premium and £3,081 in upper class. The upper class service offers a fully flat bed, clubhouse access and two 32kg checked baggage.

The British Airways website says that direct flights from Mumbai to London in business class cost between approximately £1,435 and £2,134 per person depending on the time of day.

British Airways business class boasts:

  • Dedicated check-in and access to private lounges

  • A spacious seat, which converts into a fully flat bed

  • Delicious food and drink using fresh, local ingredients

  • Luxury bedding and amenity kit

  • In-flight entertainment and access to in-seat power

The Welsh Government say business class travel "provided the facilities and space necessary to prepare while travelling" because the First Minister travelled overnight and went straight to the meeting.

Mr Gething and the three officials stayed at the Taj Lands End Hotel in Bandra West. The five star hotel is described as "a towering beacon of hospitality with views overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Bandra Worli Sea Link, Taj Lands End, Mumbai forms an idyllic, palm-fringed refuge in the midst of buzzing Bandra".

It has "opulent furnishings, soft lighting, chic décor and high gloss floors," according to its website. Standard rate rooms for one person occupancy of a deluxe king bed room are around £150 a night, but vary in availability at short notice and price.

The FOI response says: "This hotel was chosen as it is the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) marker hotel meaning it offers significantly reduced rates compared to any other suitable hotels in Mumbai. The Taj Lands End is also classed as a secure site and is used widely by diplomatic delegations to India.

We further asked the Welsh Government to explain why economy flight options were not chosen, and what type of rooms were used at the hotel as well as how many journalists attended the Indian press conference, and whether any UK journalists made the trip to India or carried out their interviews online, for example, WalesOnline's interview with Mr Gething about the trip was carried out via Zoom.

No answer was given to whether any UK press travelled to see him there, nor the type of room the politician and officials stayed in, but we were told 10 members of the Indian media went to the press conference which was reported in India Today, The Week and The Economic Times.

We were told "in accordance with the ministerial code, and where security is considered, Welsh Government ministers may travel business class where available on an aircraft".

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister’s visit to Mumbai enabled him to hold face-to-face talks with senior executives from Tata Steel. During the meeting, he made the case to retain blast furnace steel making at Port Talbot, avoid compulsory redundancies and for the company not to make irreversible choices that could materially change the industry’s future.

"Tata very much welcomed the opportunity to talk to the First Minister directly and the visit was well documented in the UK and Indian press, with journalists from the latter joining a press conference in Mumbai."

Tata recently issued a statement saying it had concerns about their plans to close two blast furnaces and open a single electric arc furnace at the site being put in "peril" by a change in UK Government. The UK Government has pledged £500m towards the transition to greener energy. A statement on June 11 read: "Over the last three years, Tata Steel, part of India’s Tata Group, one of the UK’s largest private sector investors and the UK Government have worked hard to develop a sustainable future for Tata Steel UK and the Port Talbot Plant.

"We are therefore apprehensive reading UK media reports suggesting that the £1.25 billion investment, the largest in many decades in British steelmaking, may be put in peril due to policy differences expressed by the Conservative and Labour parties, during the ongoing election period.

"We urge and request the current and the incoming government post-elections, to adhere to and safeguard the agreed terms of the £500 million package of support for the Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) project announced in September 2023. This project has been developed to ensure production of low-emission high-quality steel in Port Talbot, preserving primary steelmaking in Britain and creating the potential for a future green manufacturing cluster in south Wales."