Reports emerged today (August 14) that Turkish army pension fund Ataer Holding may be announced this week by the Official Receiver as the preferred bidder to buy British Steel.
But Unite cautioned that such reports were not yet confirmed – and that there are in fact three serious bidders for the steel firm.
The news that the preferred bidder may soon be announced comes after British Steel went into compulsory liquidation in May, following the government’s refusal to lend its previous owner Greybull Capital £30m to keep the company afloat.
But Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner warned that the latest reports of a preferred bidder are “at this stage pure speculation”.
He confirmed that Unite is attending a scheduled meeting with the administrator Ernst & Young tomorrow (August 15), where the union, Turner said, “will be raising concerns over on-going selective leaks and discussing the real issues surrounding potential bidders for the business”.
Turner went on to say that Unite understands from previous meetings that “there are three serious bidders who are interested in buying British Steel as an ongoing concern”.
“Unite is clear that we will support any serious offer for the business as a whole from a bidder who understands the need for long-term investment in the business and has the capital to ensure that this world class, innovative operation receives it,” he said. “Investment in tooling and plant as well as product development and a loyal workforce are key to the long-term future of this foundation industry.
“Stability alongside investment is critical if we are to maintain confidence in the market, our customers, suppliers and workforce.”
Last week, it was reported that the government will grant British Steel a £300m support package to entice buyers, which is said to include a mix of grants, indemnities and loans.
British Steel employs about 4,000 staff, most of whom work for its large steelworks in Scunthorpe, with another 20,000 jobs supported in the wider supply chain.
British Steel’s insolvency – and its subsequent search for a buyer to ensure its future – comes at troubling time for steel in the UK.
Last week, results showed that Tata Steel, which owns the UK’s largest steelworks in Port Talbot, lost £371.6m in the UK in the last year alone, after producing 400,000 fewer tonnes of steel than last year.
Steve Turner warned that the government must take action to support UK steel production, which he called a “core foundation industry” – one that is “crucial to any positive industrial strategy and the health of a host of other UK industries including our automotive, construction, rail and wider manufacturing sectors.
“In this whole process it is essential that the government plays its part in ensuring that the UK steel industry can compete on a level playing field with its competition,” he said. “This includes action to reduce high use energy costs, business rates and disastrous consequences of a no deal Brexit, which not only impact on exports but would again see cheap steel dumped into the UK market.”
Commenting on the potential bid from Ataer Holding, the Turkish military pension fund, Turner said, “While we welcome it as a serious proposition, Unite will be watching this closely and speaking with our Turkish sister unions given Turkey’s record of repression alongside reported opposition to independent trade union organisation in its Turkish steel plants.”