South Yorkshire Tata Steel sites set for sale - but future for workers unclear

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The sale of Tata Steel’s South Yorkshire sites - in Rotherham and Stocksbridge - could be set to begin soon, the firm has announced.

The company said it has received interest from ‘several bidders’ for the Speciality Steels arm, which is essentially the two South Yorkshire sites which employ more than 2,000 workers.

But it is not known who the firms are or what they may do with the sites once purchased.

Tata also revealed that its overall UK sale strategy has been altered by the EU referendum result.

Due to ‘uncertainties’ the Brexit vote caused, the firm is now in ‘preliminary’ talks with Thyssenkrupp AG instead of the seven companies which showed an interest in May.

Koushik Chatterjee, Group Executive Director and Tata Steel’s Executive Director for Europe, said: “It is too early to give any assurances about the success of these talks. Such success, especially the inclusion of the UK business in the potential joint venture, would depend on several issues including finding a suitable outcome for the British Steel Pension Scheme, successful discussions with the UK trade unions and the delivery of policy initiatives and other support from the Governments of the UK and Wales. These are necessary for realising a sustainable business in the UK.”

Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey said: “Tata’s decision to look for a separate sale of their Specialty Steels business has huge implications for the future of steel-making in South Yorkshire and for its workers.

“I’m confident there will be strong interest in our South Yorkshire steel plants but potential Tata buyers have already confirmed that the EU Referendum vote makes the UK much less certain for investment.”

“That means the Government’s role is much greater in securing a commitment from buyers that guarantees the future of both the Rotherham and Stocksbridge steelworks.

“Ministers must be able to offset post-Brexit doubts about vital access to the single European market and research and development funding. And Government must be willing to step in with more support on high energy costs, R&D investment and safeguarding jobs, as well as taking an equity share of the company if needed.

“I am working closely with other South Yorkshire MPs in meeting the industry minister, Tata bosses, union representatives and local city region leaders to try to get these commitments.”

Responding to today’s announcement from Tata Steel, Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of the steelworkers’ union, Community, said:

“This new approach means that uncertainty will continue for thousands of steelworkers and their families. It seems Tata believe this is in the best interests of sustaining steelmaking in Port Talbot and its downstream operations but the test will come in the next steps that Tata takes and how the dialogue with Thyssenkrupp progresses. There have been reports of talks between Thyssenkrupp and Tata for some time, so now Tata should come clean about their intentions.

“Tata must also recognise the level of frustration, even anger, among the workforce over these delays and uncertainty. It is vital that they work with Community to reassure and protect the greatest asset to the business – its people.

“Today’s announcement raises many more questions and we will be seeking answers on behalf of our members in the coming days. Any joint venture will raise significant issues as to the future of the UK businesses but it also has the potential to be a positive development. Community will seek assurances in regards to future investment in the UK. Today I have asked for Community to have the opportunity to examine and, if necessary, challenge, any plans resulting from the discussions between Tata and Thyssenkrupp. Tata has accepted and agreed to this point.

“Today’s announcement also brings us closer to testing the commitments that the UK government has made to steelworkers in recent months. The government claims that it is business as usual following the shock referendum result, but now they need to prove that is the case by turning their words into action. Community has stressed to both government and Tata that finding a solution to the British Steel Pension Scheme has to be a priority. We do not consider the Pension Protection Fund to be an adequate option.”