National union boss Roy Rickhuss said he was pleased but not surprised at the level of interest in Tata Steel UK from potential buyers, during a visit to its operations in South Yorkshire.
The general secretary of the steelworkers’ union Community said there had been more than 65 expressions of interest before a deadline. He welcomed the news - but urged potential buyers to involve the unions from the outset to guarantee the best outcome.
Mr Rickhuss toured the giant Aldwarke site in Rotherham before visiting Stocksbridge site to listen to workers at the firm, which was put up for sale by its Indian owners last month.
He said: “From the union’s point of view we are pleased there are so many potential investors. We believe it is an excellent business with a fantastically skilled workforce making brilliant products.
“At this stage the union doesn’t have a preference - all bidders should be viewed on their merits. But of those that get to the next stage, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss their plans. The unions have a great part to play.”
Greybull, which is finalising its purchase of Tata’s Scunthorpe-based Long Products division, met unions very early in the process to ensure it had support for its business plan, he added.
There has also been talk about selling Speciality Steels separately. The firm, which makes steel for hi-tech applications in the aerospace, oil and gas and automotive sectors, employs 2,172 in Rotherham and Stocksbridge.
It was a standalone business before being integrated into Corus. It has its own board and accounts and recently had a business plan approved by bosses in India.
Mr Rickhuss said he was opposed to ‘cherry picking’.
He added: “Our stance from day one is the business should be sold as a whole, we think that’s best.
“But if there is no successful bid for the UK operations then I can see the logic in the sale of Speciality Steels.”
Forgemasters chairman Tony Pedder is leading a company which has expressed an interest in the business.
Albion Steel was set-up to establish a new ‘direct strip casting’ plant which uses a cost saving and greener method to make steel, and says it could combine the concept with the Speciality Steels business.
Government wakes up to crisis
The Government has finally woken up to the crisis in the steel industry - and is serious about finding a buyer for Tata Steel - but still needs to do a lot more to help the crisis-hit industry, according to Roy Rickhuss.
It is willing to take a 25 per cent stake in Tata Steel’s UK business in a bid to save thousands of jobs.
It also said a support package worth “hundreds of millions of pounds” will be offered to potential buyers.
But the general secretary of Community union said it took the closure of the SSI site in Redcar and the loss of 1,700 jobs before the government “woke up” to what he had been telling them for a long time.
The unions and steel bosses have been calling for a cut in energy costs and business rates and an end to Chinese ‘dumping’ of subsidised steel sold below cost price.
He added: “Unfortunately it took the disgraceful tragedy of SSI for the government to stir from inactivity when its intervention could have resolved the situation.
“I think now they get it but I’m not convinced they know what to do.
“They are not taking action that is strong enough or goes far enough. And they still have a block about Chinese steel dumping, as shown in their refusal to really do something about it.”
He had a “good” relationship with Business Secretary Sajid Javid, he added