Revealed: Only one bidder left in Tata Steel UK talks - as others blast 'unprofessional' sales process

Tata steelworks in Port Talbot Credit: PA

There is only one bidder left with any serious chance of buying Tata Steel UK, ITV News can reveal - but a deal is unlikely to be any time soon, as others hit out at the company's "unprofessional" sales process.

Sanjeev Gupta’s Liberty House has taken an almost unassailable lead over the other six contenders, including the management buyout team, Excalibur Steel UK.

Tata has been in regular meetings with Liberty House and although publicly the company is still considering all bids, sources close to the talks have confirmed Tata is only dealing with Liberty House.

However, while Liberty House is still able to reach a deal with the Indian based firm, it is understood to be unlikely any time soon.

When the Tata Board meets tomorrow in Mumbai it is expected that they will agree to keep running their UK business for the foreseeable future.

Tata could cite Brexit having caused commercial and political uncertainty in the UK as a reason not to sell - but in reality, Tata Steel UK is now in profit by an estimated £15m in the last quarter, and there is no reason to rush.

In the short term, this will be seen as positive, but Tata’s employees are under no illusion that their livelihoods are still threatened and job loss "carnage" - as one worker put it - will follow.

The hot rolled steelworks at Port Talbot Credit: PA

Tata originally wanted to shut its Port Talbot steel works, specifically the blast furnaces, and it still does. Over-capacity in European steel is the problem, and with Tata in talks over merging its European business with Thyssenkrupp AG both sides need blast furnaces to shut.

Port Talbot is the thorn in the side of that solution, and any bidder with a long term strategy to keep the blast furnaces open is likely to derail that deal.

Since the sales process - or "strategic review", as Tata describes it - began, bidders have become increasingly angry at the way the company has conducted itself.

A source close to one bidder says Tata has played a "game of chicken" with the government over its support, and "wasted the time, energy, and funds of it’s competitors".

Another bidder told ITV News the process had been "appalling, unprofessional and disrespectful."

Despite consultation on their pensions, steel workers do not expect the law to change. A union source said its "more and more likely we'll end up in the Pension Protection Fund" and be forced into taking a financial hit on future income.