UK's largest union Unite warned Tata against ducking its promises and conducting a 'fire sale' of its specialty steel business
Liberty House Group plans to bid for two units of Tata Steel's British business - specialty steels and pipeline tubes - which operate independently of its Port Talbot plant and related assets that were put up for sale earlier this year, an industry source told Reuters.
"Liberty will be bidding but that's not the solution to the lack of competitiveness of the UK steel industry. If Tata don't want to continue here but are forced to hold on (to Port Talbot), there's a great danger the business will decline," said an industry source close to Liberty.
The sale of the units comes as Tata Steel is set to hold a board meeting in Mumbai on Friday, and Britain's business secretary Sajid Javid is expected to fly to India to meet the board.
British media reported earlier that Tata Steel will announce it is putting the sale of its UK business on hold, save for its specialty steels and pipeline tubes business.
The move follows the fallout from the UK's shock vote to leave the European Union, which has exacerbated an already severe steel sector crisis in the country.
"What we understand is that the (Tata Steel) sales process is on hold, but at the same time Tata will be looking for buyers for their specialty and their pipes division," said the industry source.
A Tata Steel spokesman declined to comment on the reports.
The UK's largest union Unite warned Tata against "ducking its promises and conducting a 'fire sale' of its specialty steel business while allowing Port Talbot and its UK strips business to 'wither on the vine'".
Britain's steel industry has been hit by cheap Chinese imports, high energy costs and a global supply glut.
Tata Steel put its British operations up for sale in March. Up to seven parties, including Liberty and management buy-out vehicle Excalibur Steel Ltd, have submitted bids or expressed an interest in the business, though some bidders have gotten cold feet since Britain's vote to leave the European Union, which has roiled financial markets.
Britain's largest steelmaker was widely expected to release a shortlist of bidders last month, but the Brexit vote delayed the process.
Tata Steel employs some 11,000 people in the UK. Its specialty steel and tubes business together employ some 2,000 people, meaning the fate of another 9,000 steel jobs and thousands more jobs indirectly related to steelmaking is now uncertain.
"Steel workers and their families have been put through hell over the last weeks and months, and they will be forgiven for greeting these reports with a degree of scepticism, and perhaps even an element of anger," said Stephen Kinnock, MP for Aberavon, whose constituency includes the giant Port Talbot plant in Wales.
"We all understand the massive impact of the referendum result. However, it is now absolutely critical that Tata Steel and the UK Government come forward with a specific timetable."
Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters