Fergus Ewing vows bid to find new operator for Tata Steel plants will continue

4 December 2015

Efforts to secure a new operator for two closure-threatened Lanarkshire steel plants will continue, Business Minister Fergus Ewing has vowed.

The pledge comes as the end of the minimum statutory 45-day consultation period with workers at the Tata Steel sites approaches on Friday.

Mr Ewing said an "extensive global search" has been carried out to find an alternative operator for the Dalzell and Clydebridge plants, where 225 jobs are at risk.

He said: "The Scottish Steel Taskforce remains focused on finding an alternative operator for Dalzell and Clydebridge and keeping jobs where possible. It will meet again next week to review progress.

"In a hugely challenging global steel market, we want to create the best business environment for any new operator taking on the sites.

"The Lanarkshire assessor will take into account the state of the steel industry for the next business rates revaluation in April 2017, while we are open to options for reducing the rates liability complying with state aids rules.

"We now know that energy costs at the sites could be cut significantly, while there is potential for renewable electricity generation and sale of heat from the plants.

"We also continue to press the UK Government to maintain pressure on the European Commission to accelerate state aid clearance for the Energy Intensive Industries compensation package before Christmas.

"Representatives of the Scottish Government's Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (Pace) initiative are delivering support onsite today and tomorrow for employees who may want to find another job, taking into account their skills and experience."

Bimlendra Jha, the executive chairman of Tata Steel's Longs Steel UK, said the firm will continue to work closely with affected employees and their trade unions.

"That work will, in this case, continue beyond the statutory 45-day minimum consultation period," he said.

"At the same time, Tata Steel is working closely with the Scottish Government and is fully engaged in the taskforce process of finding an alternative solution for the Dalzell and Clydebridge mills."

Steve McCool, national officer at steelworkers' union Community, said: "We will continue to talk to Tata Steel, the Scottish Government and all interested parties in the interests of securing a future for the Dalzell and Clydebridge plants.

"As we have said all along, all parties need to work together to ensure that the skills are retained and the assets are preserved to ensure that production has the chance to continue."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the focus of the Scottish Government's activity remains "very firmly" on securing an alternative commercial operator for Dalzell and Clydebridge.

"Tata Steel has confirmed that there are currently serious parties potentially interested in the plants. This is encouraging and we continue to do everything we can to assist that process," she said.

"There are no quick fixes here, there are certainly no easy fixes. But together with the workforce, the unions and with others we are working tirelessly, leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to keep these plants open."

Her comments came in response to a question at Holyrood from Motherwell Labour MSP John Pentland, who asked if she agreed that there is the potential to create a centre of excellence for steel making.

"The member knows how highly we value the jobs and the steel industry in Scotland. I think there is a real opportunity here to create a centre of excellence in the steel industry in Scotland," she said.

"When I say we will leave no stone unturned, I mean exactly that. If there is any viable option that will secure the future of these plants then the Government will explore taking that forward.

"We do right now have serious parties that are expressing potential interest in the plants. I think it is therefore appropriate and therefore right that we concentrate on doing everything we can to see one of those expressions of interest turn into something real and viable, and that at the moment is where the Scottish Government will continue to expend our energy."