Tata Steel in South Yorkshire “has a real future”, business minister Anna Soubry said after a visit to its giant plant in Rotherham.
She held private meetings with bosses, union officials, staff, MPs and council leaders before declaring: “I can’t imagine anyone not coming forward to buy this place,” and “it is a genuinely viable business.”
Ms Soubry’s visit raised the prospect of the speciality steels division, which employs 2,172 at sites in Rotherham and Stocksbridge, being hived off and sold separately by Tata’s Indian owners.
The entire UK operation was put up for sale - with a six-week deadline to find a buyer - in a surprise announcement last week.
The business, which employs about 15,000 in the UK, is losing more than £1m-a-day due to world oversupply, Chinese steel dumping and high energy prices.
But the speciality steels business is understood to be profitable.
Anna Soubry said: “This place has a real future, it exports its expertise all around the world.
“It could be said this place had been forgotten amid all the reporting on Tata, but it has a genuine future. It needs the right buyer to put in long term investment into this place. It’s a very important and successful part of the British steel industry.”
She also urged buyers, suppliers and staff not to lose heart. Four out of five apprentices due to start at the plant had turned the posts down, it was reported.
She added: “People need to have confidence in this place, I have been concerned to hear people are concerned about the future.”
She said the government was “really keen” to sort out the cost of energy and do something about business rates and the pension fund.
She left to attend a meeting with the Prime Minister and Tata executives at Number 10.
Rotherham MP John Healey, who issued the invite, praised the minister for attending and for her “warm words”.
But he added: “The proof will be a commitment by Tata to keep operations going until a sale can be secured. We need the minister to play whatever part necessary in ensuring it’s sold with the long term investment it needs.
“I’m pleased she’s fully informed. Credit to her for coming.
“She has seen what’s special about South Yorkshire steel making. In some senses it’s a case apart within Tata Group. It’s run separately and has its own board and P&L. Tata’s speciality steels business is the definition of an efficient, strategic steel making.
“It’s not just about potential job losses. It’s also about the future of our metals and materials industry.”