TIME is running out for a last-gasp deal to save hundreds of jobs at Cleveland Bridge.

After a key meeting at the Yarm Road site last night with Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, MPs, administrators and unions, it soon became clear that the chances of a rescue deal could go either way. 

There is still time, but we are now down to hours as those companies who said they were interested - and The Northern Echo understands there were several - now have to put their money on the table by the end of the day and make an ‘indicative bid’ setting out what they want to save and what they don’t need.

Minutes after the meeting ended, Ben Houchen told The Northern Echo: “The big issue here is time. It’s just not clear yet where the money will come from to retain this highly-skilled workforce.

“We know there are interested parties, but they have to tell us their plans very soon so we know how to help bring it all together in time.”

GMB organiser Steve Thompkins told us: “We’ve spoken to some of the workers and when we told told them there were a number serious contenders, they said they are committed to Cleveland Bridge and wanted to stay, but we have to find the money to pay them.”

The speed that this deal needs to be done could be its downfall. Instead of the weeks administrators sometimes get, this has been days.

In the meantime, that money must be found to pay the workers so that a rescue deal includes staff, rather than just the empty assets if desperate workers leave to find jobs elsewhere.

It can only be from three sources: A potential buyer being asked to pay some money upfront, more external funding or for customers to pay their bills either on time or in advance to put some money in the Cleveland Bridge bank. But what are the chances of all that coming together so quickly? Slim to none.

The timetable now is that those bids need to be in by the end of today - at the same time as Ben Houchen and MPs Peter Gibson and Paul Howell help to put pressure on customers to settle any invoices.

Then there is a meeting tomorrow to see how much has been achieved and then another meeting possibly on Monday to break the news.