Glasgow & West Scotland

Potential buyer for Tata plants in Dalzell and Clydebridge

Tata Steel plant in Motherwell Image copyright PA
Image caption About 270 workers at Tata Steel's plants in Motherwell and Cambuslang are set to lose their jobs

A new potential buyer has emerged for Tata Steel's two mothballed plants in Lanarkshire, where 270 jobs are going.

The international metals firm, Liberty House, has confirmed to the BBC that it is interested in acquiring the Dalzell and Clydebridge works.

In October, Tata announced 1,200 job losses across the UK.

A possible deal with Greybull Capital emerged in December, but unions said this would not necessarily guarantee the future of the Scottish plants.

The company was said to be in talks to buy the Scunthorpe plant and the Scottish plants but steelworkers' union Community, told BBC Scotland that Greybull's business plan did not include Dalzell, where 225 jobs are being lost, and the Clydebridge plant where 45 jobs are going.

The union suggested that the Scottish plants should be sold off separately from Scunthorpe.

Liberty has now told the BBC it has expressed interest in the Scottish businesses to both Tata and Scottish Enterprise.

It said discussions were ongoing but nothing had been finalised.

Analysis by Glenn Campbell, BBC Scotland political correspondent

A global glut of steel, cheap Chinese imports and the strength of Sterling have all conspired against the UK steel industry.

It's in crisis with heavy job losses including the 900 at Scunthorpe and 270 at Clydebridge and Dalzell announced by Tata in October.

Since December, Tata's been in talks with Greybull Capital about selling all three sites as part of its long products division.

Reports today suggest that a deal is close.

At the same time, Liberty House has confirmed its interest in buying Clydebridge and Dalzell as the Scottish government's steel taskforce prepares to meet.

A Liberty director told the BBC the company wants to retain skills, jobs and continue production at the two Scottish mills.

But has their interest come too late?

Not necessarily. I understand that Tata is prepared to consider selling the Scottish plants separately and that Greybull may be "willing for that to happen".

The steelworkers' union Community has previously said that a Greybull takeover would not necessarily secure the future of Clydebridge and Dalzell.

If they are sold to Liberty - and nothing has been finalised - the Lanarkshire mills would be supplied with steel bought on the international market rather than from Scunthorpe.

According to some industry sources, breaking that link may be the only way to keep Scottish steel competitive.

'Proven track record'

Public confirmation of its position comes ahead of a meeting of the Scottish government's steel taskforce later.

Business Minister Fergus Ewing said: "Liberty House has a proven track record in the UK steel industry and this is a welcome development in the quest to secure a sustainable future for Scottish steel.

"I met Liberty management last week to outline the full range of potential support that would be available from the Scottish government and Scottish Enterprise should it succeed in a buyout.

"I also emphasised that the Scottish Steel Task Force continues to work constructively to ensure a viable future for the plants, with action being taken forward on energy costs, business rates, procurement and on environmental issues."

He added: "To help a new operator restart operations, the Scottish government has also invested £195,000 in a plan to keep key workers on standby to minimise the time the plants are mothballed and to safeguard full manufacturing capability.

"The Steel Task Force will meet this morning and reflect on this positive development."

'Successful future'

A spokesman for Community said "any interest from credible investors" was welcome.

"This reinforces our strongly-held view that the skills of the workforce and the assets at the plants can be competitive and these businesses can have a successful future with the right long-term investment," the spokesman said.

"Clearly, there is a long way to go from an expression of interest to rebuilding the workforce and restarting production.

"This is why all stakeholders - particularly Tata Steel and the Scottish government - need to work together and remain focused on doing all they can to preserve the assets and retain skills, so that another investor can secure jobs and bring back production as soon as practically possible."

Labour MSP James Kelly, who is on the steel taskforce, and is MSP for Clydebridge, said: "My main priority is preserving jobs at Dalzell and Clydebridge and if selling them as a separate entity would achieve that, then that's something I would support".

Tata blamed the cuts on a flood of cheap imports from China, a strong pound and high electricity costs.

The decision to close the two Tata plants in Scotland effectively ends production at the country's last two major steelworks.

The Dalzell Steel and Iron Works opened in 1872, and Clydebridge in 1887.

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