Tata 'reaches out' to 190 buyers for Port Talbot plant

Port Talbot Image copyright Getty Images

Tata has "reached out" to 190 potential bidders for its giant Port Talbot site.

It follows news that the plant's chief Stuart Wilkie is set to launch a management buyout of the company's UK operations.

He spoke with First Minister Carwyn Jones on Wednesday about the plan, which will require support from UK and Welsh governments.

Tata, which is selling its entire loss-making UK business, would not be drawn on the identity of those approached.

"We are trying to find a responsible buyer. We don't want the process to last forever - our main aim is to find the right buyer," said a spokesman

Mr Wilkie was one of the main people behind a survival plan in January that was rejected by the Tata board in India and the UK business was put up for sale.

He has years of experience with Tata and at Corus before that.

Image caption Stuart Wilkie has experience at Tata and Corus before that

The Scot has been a senior manager in various parts of the business, including at Ebbw Vale before its closure in 2002. He has worked at Llanwern and Trostre and was a director at Cogent Power in Newport.

He is the currently director of Tata Steel strip products UK, which works across Port Talbot and Llawern plants.

Wednesday marks the deadline for expressions of interest - the first stage in the sales process which got under way last week - and Tata will start to whittle down who are the credible buyers.

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Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK Government would do "everything we can" to help the company and was prepared to support the sales process.

UK Business Minister Anna Soubry said keeping the blast furnaces at Port Talbot open was going to be difficult but "that's really what should be at the very heart of any future for Tata Steel in the UK".

The Community union said: "It is clear that significant interest in the business exists from a number of different potential buyers.

"This is a sign that a long-term, profitable future for the industry is entirely possible."

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Media captionUK Business Minister Anna Soubry said she welcomed any potential bidder

Tata Steel directly employs 15,000 workers in the UK and supports thousands of others, across plants in Port Talbot, Rotherham, Corby and Shotton.

Steel company Liberty House, owned by Sanjeev Gupta, has publicly expressed an interest in buying the Port Talbot works, which employs more than 4,000.

The steel crisis has been driven by falling prices and a global oversupply.

In the UK, high energy costs and cheaper Chinese imports have exacerbated the issue.

Dr Kath Ringwald, a steel industry analyst, said there were "enormous difficulties ahead" but the buyout would be welcomed by everyone.

She told BBC Radio Wales: "It is a very different plan; for example the Liberty plan is talking about no redundancies.

"Whether or not this plan could succeed on the same basis we don't know but it is a very difficult time in market conditions to be tabling an ambitious plan for re-investment."

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