Steelworkers encouraged as Javid reassures on Tata plan to be responsible seller


Steelworkers have been "encouraged" about efforts to save their jobs after hearing from the Business Secretary that Indian conglomerate Tata is planning to act responsibly over the sale of its UK assets.

Sajid Javid visited the giant Port Talbot steelworks just hours after flying back to the UK from meeting Tata officials to press for time over the sale of its steel plants.

He arrived at the site in a black chauffeur-driven Jaguar just before midday before he was locked in talks with workers and union officials for three-and-a-half hours.

The minister was driven away without making any comment.

Community union president Alan Coombs said he was encouraged by what the minister told managers and union representatives.

"At the end of the meeting, the million-dollar question was 'what guarantees have we had from Mumbai?' I was very encouraged by what he said - that Tata are not going to forget about their values and they are going to be responsible sellers. They are going to give the appropriate time to get a buyer in.

"There's no line in the sand when it has to be sold by. To me, that's a big plus. I don't want to work to a deadline to get someone in, although I know it can't be open-ended either.

"I appreciate what Tata have done for us in Port Talbot over the years, but everybody understands that Tata is not a bottomless pit and they are not continuing with it.

"It has been a very frustrating process, but there is some hope. A week or so ago it was the worst-case scenario. That seems like a million miles away now. There does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel - even though there is nothing concrete at the moment.

"However, there is no doubt that the UK Government and Welsh Government are going to have to be part of any deal."

Mr Javid visited Port Talbot last Friday after cutting short a business trip to Australia because of the crisis gripping the steel industry.

He said before leaving Mumbai that 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 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 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.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "The First Minister of Wales met with Sanjeev Gupta of Liberty House Group this afternoon to discuss ways in which government could support any future purchaser of Tata's steelmaking operations in Wales.

"It was a useful meeting and the First Minister reiterated his commitment to work closely with Mr Gupta and his team. They will keep in regular contact as discussions progress."

:: A ceremony will be held at the Dalzell steelworks in Motherwell on Friday to mark the handover of the plant and its sister works at Clydebridge, Cambuslang, to Liberty House following its purchase from Tata.