BUSINESS Secretary Vince Cable should “come clean”

about whether any deal to buy a mothballed Corus plant is imminent when he visits the region today, a political rival claimed.

Speculation was rife on Teesside yesterday that Mr Cable’s visit was related to an imminent announcement that Thai company Sahaviriya Steel Industries (SSI) is to take control of the Teesside Cast Products (TCP) facility, near Redcar, east Cleveland.

It was fuelled by reports in the Far East on Monday which quoted an SSI source saying a deal for the plant, which was mothballed in February, would take place soon.

In addition, news services in India, where Corus’ parent company Tata Steel is based, reported that an Memorandum of Understanding was likely to be signed in the “next few days”.

Although Mr Cable will today visit the Corus-run Teesside Beam Mill, in Lackenby, to meet managers and apprentices, sources indicated his visit was not expected to include any major announcements.

But Tom Blenkinsop, formerly a steel industry organiser with the Community union and now Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said Mr Cable should “come clean” on market rumours that Corus was close to announcing a deal with SSI.

Mr Blekinsop said: “I challenge him to come clean as to whether there has been any positive developments with the Redcar deal, and whether the Government will be providing any financial support to help secure a potential deal.”

February’s mothballing of TCP cost 1,600 jobs, although a number of factors have reduced the number of compulsory redundancies “Time is of the essence and people demand answers,” Mr Blenkinsop added.

On Monday, The Nation, a respected Thai newspaper, quoted an SSI source who said the Thai steel company wants to buy TCP to give it a manufacturing base through which to enter European markets.

It goes on to claim that the company believes the time is right to strike a deal because of the weak euro.

SSI has been seen as the most likely buyer for the plant since reports that representatives of the company visited TCP in April, as part of a “due diligence” process of checking the business’ assets.

In May, SSI president Win Viriyaprapaikit agreed to meet a North-East delegation of union leaders and MPs in Bangkok, even though neither SSI, nor Corus, have officially revealed they are in negotiations.

The company, which has previously been a customer of TCP, needs six million tonnes of steel a year and could lower its raw material costs by buying TCP.

Last night, it emerged thousands of Corus workers are to be balloted on whether to accept an improved pay offer described as a ‘‘breakthrough”

by union leaders.

Corus still employs about 3,000 staff in the North-East despite the mothballing of TCP.

Unite said the new deal was worth 3.2 per cent, backdated to April this year, with a oneoff payment of £200.

National officer Terry Pye said: ‘‘After months of long and tough negotiations, this is a breakthrough and this new offer will be well deserved by our members.

“This new deal offered by Corus will also go some way to rebuilding trust with management.”

The ballot result will be known next month.