A TASK force established to examine how efforts can be co-ordinated to help find new jobs for steelworkers facing redundancy met for the first time yesterday.

The meeting included senior figures from Government agencies, regional and local bodies, Redcar and Cleveland Council, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Ashok Kumar, Corus and UK Steel Enterprise.

Trade and Indusry Secretary Stephen Byers has thrown his weight behind the task force, which will work out how to deal with the impact of hundreds of steel job losses in the area.

The decision to set up the task force follows announcements from Corus that it will shed more than 750 jobs at its Grangetown Research Centre and production plants at Lackenby and Redcar.

Redcar and Cleveland council leader David Walsh explained that yesterday the group was looking at the immediate needs of those workers and families affected by the Corus job cuts.

"Whilst the direct impact of the job losses has fallen on the South Tees plants, the work of the task force has been greatly assisted with the Government's agreement to representations arguing that the Brotton Ward should qualify for help under the Assisted Area programme to attract new jobs and investment."

Ashok Kumar said: "I will continue to lobby Ministers to make sure this area gets a fair break."

The task force will be chaired by Alistair Arkley, chairman of the recently created Tees Valley Partnership. Government departments involved include the Employment Service, Benefits Agen-cy and Government Office North East. One NorthEast and Tees Valley TEC are also involved with the task force.