Long term steel future 'critical' - Ken Skates

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Media captionKen Skates said long term security for steel making in Wales is the priority

New Economy and Infrastructure Secretary Ken Skates has called for a long-term solution to the steel crisis that will protect jobs in Wales, whether Tata sells its UK sites or not.

The Indian firm is expected to come up with a shortlist of potential buyers.

But there is also a belief that it could be reconsidering putting its operations, including the giant Port Talbot plant, on the market.

Mr Skates said long term commitment was the "critical factor".

He told BBC Wales it was an "absolute priority" that the continuation of steelmaking at Port Talbot - which employs 4,000 workers - should be in the business plan of any would-be owners.

"If Tata were to decide that actually they can retain their interests for the long term - that's the critical factor - and continue with steel making and ensure they take full responsibility for pensions, then we'd clearly be able to consider that to be something of a successful outcome."

Image copyright Tata

The UK government is consulting on new rules that would see Tata reduce the benefits to members of its pension scheme in order to reduce its current deficit.

Plaid Cymru's new shadow economy secretary Adam Price said it was one thing to be used as part of a sale but should not be available to Tata if it decides to keep its UK operations.

Some closely involved in the process believe this is being considered by the Indian company following negotiations with UK ministers on financial support.

Mr Price added that the company was "morally and legally" responsible for its pension liabilities.

He argued that the regulator should secure the funds from Tata's profitable parent group in order to avoid a "worrying precedent" being set.

Tata is consistently said maintaining its reputation is important to it as part of this process.

However, Mr Price's comments come amid growing political concerns over how it is being handled.

Tata delayed coming up with a shortlist of bidders when its board met in Mumbai.

That fuelled speculation that the sale would be delayed or that Tata could be considering withdrawing from the process and keeping its businesses.

Conditions have altered in recent months.

Steel prices have also started to rise, action is being taken against Chinese imports and a turnaround plan has already started to cut losses at Port Talbot, though these remain significant.

Image copyright Getty Images

Mr Price also called for clarity and said there was confusion and also "understandable scepticism" among workers after Tata had earlier rejected a turnaround plan.

There are expected to be three bidders going through to the shortlist: steel and energy firm Liberty; management-led Excalibur; and Yorkshire-based equity and turnaround specialists Endless LLP with the support of American tycoon Wilbur Ross.

Tata Steel said it was "committed to running a thorough and urgent sale process for its UK business".

A spokesman added: "That remains the case today. Negotiations about various aspects of the sales process continue with interested parties."

There is a longer version of the interview with Ken Skates on BBC Wales At Work on BBC iPlayer

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