FORMER Rangers owner Sir David Murray has confirmed that he is in talks to buy up Scotland’s two steelworks which are under threat of closure, in what could be a last chance for the industry north of the Border.
The works at Dalzell and Clydebridge are set to be shut by owners Tata unless a rescue package can be found, because of huge losses and problems with China flooding the international market with cheap steel.
Sir David, whose business The Murray Group includes a building company that is supplied by the plant at Dalzell, has been in discussions over a possible takeover for several weeks.
He has held talks with Scottish Government ministers, as well as with Tata in London, but it appears that any agreement is still some way off.
It is understood that the plants are losing millions and if he goes ahead with any buy-out it will involve cost cutting.
In a statement issued last night, Sir David, who is currently the industry’s only potential saviour in Scotland, warned that there are “difficult challenges” connected to the takeover.
He said: “Having been involved in the industry for more than 40 years – and the plant at Dalzell is one of my main suppliers – it is obvious that I would be concerned, as both a customer and as an employer, over what I could do to assist in helping to preserve such iconic brands.
“Four weeks ago I spoke to Scottish Government ministers. Meetings followed and further discussions have since taken place.
“I also met officials from Tata Steel in London, on Tuesday, 3 November.”
He added: “I will continue dialogue and to assist where practical, however, no one should underestimate the gravity of the difficult challenges that lie ahead.”
Steel firm Tata announced the mothballing of its operations at the Dalzell plant last month and at its other site in Clydebridge, Cambuslang, with the loss of 270 jobs.
A further 900 workers at the Tata steel plant in Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire, also face redundancy.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promised to do everything in her power to secure the future of the industry in Scotland and set up a taskforce with the priority of finding a new commercial operator for the two plants and support workers facing redundancy.
The taskforce, which has already met, comprises representatives from Tata, South and North Lanarkshire councils, trade unions, Scottish Enterprise, elected representatives and industry bodies.
But Labour has criticised the UK and Scottish governments for failing to prioritise rescuing the steel industry in the way they saved Prestwick Airport, Grangemouth oil refinery and shipbuilders Fergusons.
A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “Scottish Labour has been clear from the outset that the priority for the UK and Scottish Governments must be to secure the Scottish steel industry and the jobs that rely on it.
“At Grangemouth, Ferguson’s and Prestwick the Scottish Government stepped in. The workers at Dalzell and Clydebridge will not stand for any less support.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said last night : “Any talks by interested parties must be held in commercial confidence to enable initial inquiries to be made, to allow them to determine whether they proceed to put forward any offer. It is not helpful at this stage to speculate on who prospective buyers might be.”
Sources have added that the Scottish Government is working closely with Tata, the workforce, unions and others to secure an alternative commercial operator for the sites.
But they have emphasised that any final decision would be made by Tata.
The revelation about Sir David Murray has come as the industry in the UK has pressed the UK Government to ease the crisis in their industry by tackling “unfair dumping” of products.
Trade body UK Steel said Business Secretary Sajid Javid should spearhead immediate European action on anti-dumping measures when the issue is discussed at a meeting of the EU’s Competitiveness Council. Thousands of steel job losses have been announced in recent weeks, with firms blaming high energy costs and business rates, as well as cheap Chinese imports.
UK Steel said the latest data showed that Chinese dumping of Rebar (reinforcing steel) is set to account for more than half the UK market this year.
The group is calling for the EU to follow the example of the United States, where action on dumping takes weeks.
In contrast, in the EU cases can take many months to be accepted and initiated, and then a further nine months before even a provisional decision is taken, said UK Steel.
Director Gareth Stace said: “The US and other countries have already moved to prevent cheap Chinese imports distorting their markets and now the EU must do the same, and do so quickly.
“The UK must seize the moment and encourage a rapid response in Brussels if we’re to prevent largescale problems for steelmakers spreading in Britain and across the continent.”