MARK Drakeford has issued a plea to businesses for investment in an area of Gwent devastated by job cuts.

The closure of the Tillery Valley Foods (TVF) factory in Abertillery wiped out hundreds of local jobs and left locals fearing for the future of the town.

Wales' first minister bemoaned the "very sad" end of the factory, a major local employer, and said jobs could have been saved if the Welsh Government had been informed of the firm's situation earlier.

"I wish that we had had a more ready response from the ultimate owners of the company, which would have allowed us and, I believe, the management on the spot, to have done more to promote the real possibility of that company continuing to operate at that site," he said.

Hundreds of workers have been hit by the shock announcements that TVF and another food factory, Abergavenny-based Avara Foods, would close.

Many of Avara's workers reportedly come from Blaenau Gwent.

Alun Davies, the region's Senedd representative, said he was "very grateful" to the Welsh Government, Blaenau Gwent council, and the UK Government for the "energy and the urgency" of the response to try and rescue jobs.

Citing a recent jobs fair for TVF workers who had been made redundant, Mr Drakeford said he was "glad that there have been opportunities already to bring more than 20 employers together - employers looking for skilled workers - to recruit people from Tillery Valley Foods".

But Mr Davies argued government had to "do more than" rescue jobs when factories closed down, adding that the A465 road which crosses Blaenau Gwent was "an economic corridor that can drive growth in the Heads of the Valleys" region.

He called on Mr Drakeford's government to "bring all its resources to bear on developing the Heads of the Valleys as an economic region that can drive growth and eliminate poverty".

The first minister agreed, describing the area as an "economic corridor" that provides an "opportunity for businesses looking to locate or to expand to take advantage of the connection there will be from the large centres of population in the English midlands, right down to the south-west of Wales".

He added: "There is land available, there are skilled people available, there is connectivity available, and there is certainly the political will available to maximise the economic impact of that investment across the whole of the Heads of the Valleys area."