State help needed to find buyer for Tata Steel’s South Yorkshire plants

TATA Steel plant at Rotherham which is under threat after the Indian owners said they are looking to sell the business
Picture Dean Atkins
TATA Steel plant at Rotherham which is under threat after the Indian owners said they are looking to sell the business Picture Dean Atkins

State help will be required to find a buyer for Tata Steel’s South Yorkshire plants - but nationalisation is ‘not a solution’, Business Secretary Sajid Javid has said.

Mr Javid said he believes a buyer can be found for the UK assets of Tata Steel, including the Port Talbot works in South Wales.

It comes after the Indian firm announced plans this week to sell off its UK steelworks, including those in Stocksbridge and Rotherham - putting more than 2,000 jobs in South Yorkshire, and 15,000 nationally, at risk.

Mr Javid told the Andrew Marr show the Government is willing to act to secure a deal.

He said: “Tata will issue an offer document very soon. Alongside that, the UK Government know that we’re also going to have to offer support to clinch that buyer and give that steel plant [Port Talbot] a long-term, viable future.

“I don’t think nationalisation is a solution to this. Having said that, I also think it wouldn’t be prudent to rule anything out at this stage, but I think that nationalisation is rarely an answer in these situations.

“I want to see steelmaking continuing in Port Talbot, I want to protect as many jobs as possible, I want to find a buyer for the whole of the business.”

Mr Javid indicated the Government was ready to provide further assistance with reducing the energy costs of running Port Talbot.

“Any potential investor would want to see movement on that,” he said.

He also suggested the Government could help with the costs of the pension scheme - which dates back to the former nationalised British Steel.

“No-one is talking about nationalisation of pension schemes but it is something I absolutely recognise is a challenge,” he said.

Mr Javid said Tata had first informed the Government ‘a few weeks ago’ it was reviewing its entire operations in the UK - including the possible closure of Port Talbot.

While they had succeeded in persuading the company to move to an open sales process, the Business Secretary - who was on a trade mission to Australia at the time - admitted they had been caught by surprise by the Tata board’s announcement in Mumbai last week.

“What we actually knew was that it was an important meeting. But when they made the announcement we didn’t anticipate they would go that far,” he said.

“The strength of the announcement and how far they went - particularly what they said about timing - was much further than we expected.”

It comes after steel tycoon Sanjeev Gupta said he was opening talks with Tata Steel about potentially taking over the Port Talbot plant but was not able to buy the entire UK operation.

He told the Sunday Telegraph that any deal would require a ‘proper partnership’ with the Government if it was to succeed.