A DEAL to rescue British Steel and safeguard thousands of jobs is "within grasp", a Government minister has claimed.

Business Secretary Greg Clark told MPs this afternoon an agreement to ensure "the flourishing of British Steel's operations for many years to come" is "not certain but certainly within grasp."

The Northern Echo:

Mr Clark, who is expected to leave his role as Business Secretary once Boris Johnson takes over as Prime Minister later today, was responding to an urgent question from Redcar MP Anna Turley, who paid tribute to Mr Clark but said the situation remained "precarious". 

He said it was "still an uncertain time" for the workforce and their families, but "the world needs steel and British Steel is amongst the best in the world".

Britain's second-largest steel producer, which employs thousands of workers, including 700 in the North East at sites in Lackenby and Skinningrove, went into liquidation in May after rescue talks with the Government collapsed.

The Northern Echo:

Uncertain of his own Cabinet future, Mr Clark told MPs that it would require the "active participation" of everyone.

He added: "And in particular to whoever stands at this despatch box to devote themselves unstintingly to achieve a great outcome for everyone concerned with British Steel, which I believe, though not certain is certainly within grasp and that is the flourishing of British Steel's operations for many years to come."

Mr Clark said that although all decisions are for the official receiver "I've been active as members know in visiting prospective buyers in many parts of the world to make it clear that the UK Government will, within its legal powers, work with a good long term owner of these important assets to see how we can help them realise their vision for the company."

Mr Clark said the British Steel support group, which he chairs, had met eight times.

He said: "The confidence that the support group has built, coupled with a Government indemnity to the official receiver, has allowed trading to continue, orders to be won and production to increase. This is without precedent in my experience."

The Northern Echo: Redcar MP Anna TurleyRedcar MP Anna Turley

He added: "I'm pleased to say that the official receiver has said that he is encouraged by the level of interest in purchasing British Steel and his special managers EY are currently in further discussions with potential buyers."

"The official receiver has made it clear that given the complex nature of the operations any potential sale will take time to deliver."

He added: "I said in May that I was determined to see the proud record of steel-making excellence continue. The world needs steel and British steel is amongst the best in the world."

"To secure that will require in my experience the continued active participation of everyone that I mentioned earlier without interruption during the critical weeks ahead."

Ms Turley said: “This is a fundamentally different situation to 2015 and those lessons have thankfully been learned, thanks to the leadership Greg has set.

"It will be disappointing to see him leave the role, especially at this crucial time for British Steel, and I raised these questions today because we need those assurances to give the workforce and potential buyers confidence.

"The new government must do everything they can to get a successful deal across the line.”

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Simon Clarke, Middlesbrough South and east Cleveland, said “This is an opportunity to say a big thank you on behalf of the people of Teesside for all of the dedication that the Secretary of State has shown, as a son of Teesside, to our steel industry and it has not gone unnoticed locally how much he has gone over and above what might be called the ordinary line of duty in order to secure a positive outcome.”

Mr Clarke also highlighted the government’s willingness to work alongside a future purchaser to ensure a secure future for steelworkers.

In his answer, the minister highlighted government support available for decarbonisation and improving energy efficiency as well as the provision in the Government’s industrial strategy for “the biggest increase in Research & Development…which we have ever had in the history of this country…the environment is a positive one (for prospective purchasers)”.