THE jobs of hundreds of North-East steel workers are a step closer to being saved after a steelmaking subsidiary of the Turkish military pension fund entered exclusivity talks with British Steel.

Ataer Holding will enter exclusive talks on the purchase of Britain's second largest steel maker today.

The Northern Echo:

The announcement will be welcome to news to the thousands of British Steel workers across the country, including the 700 in the North-East at sites in Lackenby and Skinningrove.

The company is also indirectly responsible for 20,000 workers in the supply chain and produces around 2.5 million tonnes of steel a year.

The Official Receiver has entered exclusive talks with Oyak, which controls Ataer, after revealing he received several approaches for the business.

He said: "Following discussions with a number of potential purchasers for the British Steel group over the past few weeks I am pleased to say I have now received an acceptable offer from Ataer Holdings AS for the purchase of the whole business and I am now focusing on finalising the sale.

"I will be looking to conclude this process in the coming weeks, during which timeBritish Steel continues to trade and supply its customers as normal. I would like to thank all employees, suppliers and customers for their continued support which has been essential to get to this point."

In a statement Ataer Holding said it was now exclusively conducting detailed financial, legal and operational review for a period of two months.

It said: "During the exclusivity period, close negotiations to be held with customers, suppliers, employees and trade unions is significant for the future success of British Steel."

The Northern Echo: FOODBANK: Redcar Labour candidate Anna Turley

Redcar MP Anna Turley said it was "great news" and the 700 North-East workers can now have "confidence" of the industry's future.

She said: "This is great news for British Steel and the thousands of workers and their families, including 700 on Teesside, who can now have some confidence that their industry has a future.

"Whilst the coming weeks will be crucial for hammering out the detail and successfully completing a sale, the outlook is now extremely positive.

"Ataer Holding have a strong connection to the global steel industry with their shareholding in the Turkish Erdemir group. I'll be looking closely at the detail of their bid to ensure it delivers the investment in assets, people and innovation that we need. 

"I want to pay tribute to Secretaries of State Greg Clark and Andrea Leadsom, the Official Receiver and EY, the trade unions, and the wider British Steel Support Group for their dedication to securing a successful outcome. No one wanted to see a repeated of the disaster in 2015 and to their credit ministers have stepped up this time, including with the support package for this sale.

"Thank you also to the workforce, suppliers, and customers whose hard work and commitment, especially during such huge uncertainty, has allowed this process to succeed."

The Northern Echo: SUCCESS: Ben Houchen, Tees Valley Mayor

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “This is fantastic news. A potential buyer has now agreed terms to buy British Steel as whole and to run it as a business. They have now entered into an exclusive period to finalise legal documentation over the coming weeks, which will secure the long-term future of British Steel.

“Since the day the business went into liquidation we’ve been working tirelessly behind the scenes with Government to get talks to this point and it’s a massive step forward for all parties that a deal is agreed.

“While it’s not quite over the line yet, this will be a huge weight off the shoulders of local workers, their families and the supply chain.

“I want to thank British Steel staff for continuing to work hard for the business during these uncertain times, which has been noticed by the potential buyers as a reason for their interest in the business.

"I’d also like to thank politicians from all parties, the unions and Government for stepping up to save British Steel and to protect Teesside jobs. This is what we can achieve when we work together. Today is a good day.”

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Simon Clarke, Middlesbrough South and east Cleveland MP, added: "It’s excellent news that the Official Receiver has confirmed it has received an acceptable offer to buy the whole of British Steel, and they are now working to finalise the sale.

"The Government has left no stone unturned to save a vital British business.

"Today’s announcement is a huge credit to Andrea Leadsom  & also her predecessor Greg Clark. Both have been incredibly active in helping secure a deal that brings in an established European steel maker to lead British Steel into the 2020s. Focus now on smooth transition."

British Steel went into liquidation in May after talks with the Government collapsed.

Last week, the Government agreed to provide financial support to British Steel potentially worth hundreds of millions of pounds, paving the way for a deal to secure the company's immediate future.

Harish Patel, national officer for steel at the Unite union, said: "The overwhelming feeling of the 5,000 workers at British Steel is one of relief."

But GMB national officer Ross Murdoch warned that its members were still "staring redundancy in the face" due to the continuing uncertainty.

"This dedicated and loyal workforce must not be an afterthought amidst all of the speculation," he said.

The Northern Echo:

Chris McDonald, chief executive of the Middlesbrough-based Materials Processing Institute, said: “I very much welcome an end to what has been a period of great uncertainty surrounding not only the future of British Steel but those of a workforce numbering more than 4,000 people.

“The chosen bidder Ataer provides a strategic fit for the business, as it also owns Edermir, Turkey’s largest iron and steel producer.”

“It has reportedly pledged to invest almost £1 billion in British Steel over a number of years which underlines its commitment to its long-term future.

“I also wish to acknowledge the support shown by the Government to those parties involved in the bidding process and for allowing a realistic time frame in which those bids could be developed and submitted.

“This is a positive day not only for British Steel but for the future of UK manufacturing and the economy in general as it is vital that this country maintains a meaningful steel industry.”

The Northern Echo:

Gareth Stace, UK Steel director general, said: "The UK steel sector has a potentially bright future, underpinned by increasing UK and global steel demand for our products, but the Government must recognise the need to address the business environment in the UK which currently undermines our competitiveness.

"The steel industry is ready to invest in its future in the UK, all it requires is a partnership with the Government to help deliver a level playing field that can unlock its potential."

Former Business Secretary Greg Clark tweeted: "A great move forward for British Steel today. The workforce, customers, suppliers, communities and officials have been magnificent throughout the last 12 weeks. It shows what can be done when everyone works together.

"I strongly believed there could be a big future for British Steel, whose products are among the best in the world. Having met the preferred bidder in Turkey and in the UK I was impressed that they shared this ambition. I hope the process can now be concluded swiftly and well."

The Northern Echo:

Cllr Mary Lanigan, leader of Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, said: “This is very promising news for our hundreds of hardworking British Steel workers and their families and the entire economy of Redcar and Cleveland and the Tees Valley.

“It has taken a lot of hard work right across the political divide from Government downwards to get this stage -  but that hard work is not over yet and we at Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council will continue to work with all parties to get the best possible deal for our people at Skinningrove and Lackenby and our borough.

“We will continue to develop our relationship with Ataer Holding AS as the preferred bidder, a respected firm which has strong links right across the international steel industry. This is an important moment for our steel industry and a further indication that we can expect a thriving industrial future in Redcar and Cleveland.”