Business Secretary to make second visit to Port Talbot steel plant


The Business Secretary is to visit the giant Port Talbot steelworks after flying back to the UK from meeting officials at Indian conglomerate Tata to press for time to sell its steel plants in this country.

Sajid Javid is expected to travel to South Wales to meet managers and workers' representatives for the second time in a week.

He visited the plant last Friday after cutting short a business trip to Australia because of the crisis gripping the steel industry.

Mr Javid said Tata's sale process will start by Monday, although there was no set timeframe for it to be completed.

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 made the shock decision to sell its loss-making UK assets.

He 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, said he welcomed the "constructive" conversation the minister had with Tata, adding: "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.

"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. 

"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.