Tata Steel has received final bids for its UK business ahead of a crucial week for the crisis-hit industry and the job prospects of thousands of workers.
The future of Tata’s Hartlepool site, in Brenda Road, which employs 500 people, was thrown into doubt when the firm announced its intention to sell all UK assets.
Several bidders have shown interest in the firm with the bidding process ending on Monday.
Seven bids were expected to be made before the deadline, although there was speculation that up to two companies which had expressed an interest, pulled out.
The two favourites, Liberty House and management buyout group Excalibur, are believed to have held talks about their bids.
The two made separate bids and there have been no formal merger talks, it is understood.
But representatives from the two sides have met, raising the prospect of a link-up before Tata makes a final decision.
The Indian conglomerate’s board will meet in Mumbai on Wednesday and is expected to draw up a short list of up to three before making a final decision.
There was no formal statement from anyone involved in the sale process, although Tata may release some information after publishing financial figures on Wednesday.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid is travelling to Mumbai ahead of the board meeting, and will reinforce the Government’s support for Tata’s assets, including taking a stake of up to 25% to smooth the sale process.
Former pensions minister Steve Webb has warned that a “quick fix” on the British Steel pension scheme to help save jobs at Tata risked undermining the pension security of millions of people.
Mr Webb, director of policy at pensions and investment firm Royal London, said: “The desire to save steel jobs is entirely understandable, but there are huge risks if a quick fix for this problem were to undermine the carefully constructed pension protection framework.
“The pensions of millions of workers and pensioners depend on employers honouring the pension promises that they have made. A deal on Tata must not create a precedent or a loophole which could be exploited by firms keen to walk away from their pension liabilities. Ministers must tread with extreme caution in this area.”
Steel workers from across the country will stage a march in central London on Wednesday to keep up pressure on the Government and Tata to help save jobs at plants, including the country’s biggest steelworks at Port Talbot in South Wales.
Shadow business secretary Angela Eagle said: “We sincerely hope a suitable bid can be found which preserves the blast furnaces, the 15,000 high-skill jobs, and our domestic steel-making capacity.
“But the Tory Government must address the underlying challenges to the industry - on energy, business rates, procurement, and most importantly, preventing Chinese dumping.
“The Government must stop kowtowing to China and start standing up for our steel.”