THE UK-based steel baron Sanjeev Gupta has vowed to try and save the thousands of jobs at Britain’s biggest steel plants at Port Talbot plants, in South Wales.
However, Mr Gupta nicknamed “Britain’s Man of Steel” has warned that the UK’s steel crisis will not be resolved easily or soon in spite of current owner Tata Steel, of India, wanting to sell Port Talbot and its other British plants as quickly as possible.
Mr Gupta, 44, has had several talks with the UK business secretary Sajid Javid, after he expressed an interest in taking over Port Talbot steel works and its 4,000 workforce, through Liberty House Group, a commodities company which he founded and runs.
In fact, he became very much concerned with saving the 4,000 steelworkers jobs since Tata announced the sale last month and said: “There has been a lot of pressure and my number of sleeping hours has definitely gone down.
“It’s a difficult moment and whether we go ahead or not, that crunch time will come in the next few weeks. If heavy job losses comes out to be the price to pay, we would not be the ones undertaking that exercise. We will undertake this exercise if we can sustain jobs, which we feel is possible at this stage.”
Mr Gupta’s comments precede the formal process for the sale of Tata Steel’s UK works, which is set to begin today (11 April), when the Indian steel giant is expected to invite interested buyers for a short-listing process.
Although Mr Gupta believes the crisis in the steel industry is set to get worse before it gets better due to excess steel capacity around the world, he remains optimistic about it becoming viable again.
He said: “I don’t think the crisis will abate any time soon as the main issue is excess capacity, which will continue in the world for some time. But based on domestic demand, each country can make an efficient industry out of it (steel).”
Acquisition of the Port Talbot works by Mr Gupta, who is a Cambridge University graduate, born in the Punjab, would involve switching from the giant blast furnaces to electric arc furnaces to recycle scrap steel instead of importing raw materials.
On the subject of the UK government giving more help, he said: “Even if more was or is done, the model itself is to be questioned. The model based on countries (China) where there is no raw material and they are holding everything is the problem.
“Both the governments (British and Welsh) are very helpful and cooperative. Then, it is a question of analysis, which we will have to undertake in-depth once we engage with Tata. That is when the model and concept we have clearly outlined and plan to pursue will be tested with real numbers,” he said.
Already Liberty House has taken control of Tata Steel’s Scottish plants at Dalzell and Clydebridge in Lanarkshire. The deal to acquire the two Tata plants has been in progress since late last year and was finally agreed last month.
Mr Gupta: “This particular deal was being negotiated since November last year. Now that we finally have the control and the possibility to get going, it’s exciting. Energy has always been central to our concerns.
“The point is the industry needs investments and India has a natural affinity with the UK, which is why to begin with all these investments were done by Tata, and that will continue.”
Mr Gupta, who started a metals trading company from his student flat at Trinity College back in 1992, has Liberty House offices in London, Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore and a turnover of more than £2bn.
Last October he restarted hot-rolled coil production at a rolling mill in Newport, South Wales, after a 40-year hiatus.
Job security was again a primary concern when the firm had acquired the facility in 2013 during tough times, retaining the 150 staff over the intervening period in order to be ready to restart when market conditions allowed.
Liberty House also went on to make a series of acquisitions in the UK steel industry in 2015, including some of NRI industrialist Lord Paul’s Caparo Industries units.
Mr Gupta’s father began making bicycles before expanding into international commodities trading. Today the family owned group, SIMEC, has interests across metals and renewable energy with Liberty as a sister firm. SIMEC recently acquired a substantial stake in the UK’s Tidal Lagoon Plc to finance the development of full-scale tidal lagoons in the UK and India.
Sanjeev Gupta has a vision for “Green Steel”, using renewable energy to melt the readily available supply of scrap in Britain, instead of relying on the import of iron ore and coal from far flung corners of the globe.