Sajid Javid flying back to UK after asking Tata chiefs for time to sell plants


The Business Secretary is flying back to the UK after meeting officials of Indian conglomerate Tata to press for time to sell its steel plants in this country.

Sajid Javid said the sale process will start by Monday, although there was no set timeframe for it to be completed.

Unions had been pressing for Tata to give an assurance that it will allow enough time for potential buyers to come forward.

Sanjeev Gupta, the head of Liberty House, the only company to publicly express an interest in Tata's plants, told the Press Association the process would take months.

Mr Javid held a two-hour meeting with Tata officials in Mumbai, just over a week after the company took the shock decision to sell its loss-making UK assets.

Mr Javid said Tata will allow a "reasonable amount of time" for the process to be completed.

The minister stressed that the Government wanted to work with any prospective buyer, saying "a number" of people had already started coming forward.

"I would like to see many more come forward when the formal process begins," he said.

Mr Javid met Tata chairman Cyrus Mistry and other company officials to discuss the planned sale.

He said afterwards that he understood there would be some "issues" to deal with, such as power, which the Government "might be able to help further with".

Mr Gupta said buying Tata's UK steel business was a "daunting" prospect, especially as the sale announcement was so unexpected.

He told the Press Association he expected other companies to show an interest now that the sale process was about to formally start.

"We have had very good interaction with the Government and unions but we now need a proper analysis, and work out many details."

Mr Gupta said any buyer would have to "turn around" Tata's loss-making business and would not want to take on the huge pension liabilities.

Tata would probably want to make progress on any sale within weeks, but Mr Gupta said he believed the process would take months.

"We are interested and we now need to work out a business plan."

Mr Gupta said Tata workers would have to be retrained and he still believed jobs could be saved, although he added it was time to "take a breather" to consider details of the sale.

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community union, spoke to Mr Javid immediately after the meeting in Mumbai, saying he welcomed the "constructive" conversation the minister had with Tata.

"I am pleased that he raised those issues I had raised with him before he flew to India.

"I am encouraged to learn that Tata have committed to be a responsible seller and to allow the time we need to secure a new commercial operator.

"This is a credit to the campaign our members have run over the past week. Now is the time to get to work. Community has already begun working with independent experts to map out a plan for our steel industry. We look forward to continuing to work with Government to build a sustainable future for steelmaking in the UK."

Harish Patel of Unite said: "This is an agonising time for these workers and their communities so we look forward to a fuller debrief on the next stages from the minister on his return. Our members are sure to have questions on the details and the next steps.

"Tata has made it clear that they want to make this process as swift as possible, and while we welcome their commitment to be a responsible seller, we now need to focus on how this industry is safeguarded for the future.

"We are extremely concerned that this uncertainty will have wider ramifications. We also want to discuss the supply chain implications, where Unite has thousands of members who also face an uncertain future so we will be seeking further urgent discussions with the minister on his return."

Meanwhile, workers are voting on temporary changes to terms and conditions as part of an impending sale of Tata's giant steel plant in Scunthorpe.

Union members are being balloted on a 3% cut in pay and a reduction in pensions, part of a "transformation plan" ahead of the expected sale to investment firm Greybull Capital.

Negotiations over the sale of the plant, which employs around 4,000 workers, have been taking place for several months, well before Tata's announcement last week.