HOPES remain high that a deal to sell British Steel could be done before Christmas following another positive round of talks this week.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen met with the Secretary of State for Business, Andrea Leadsom, along with trades union officials and other representatives yesterday to discuss progress with the sale of the company.

Following the meeting, Mr Houchen revealed that it was highly likely that British Steel will be sold, and the Ataer group, a steelmaking subsidiary of the Turkish military pension fund, remain interested.

He said: "It is still highly likely that the business will be sold and Ataer are still very keen to conclude a deal to buy the business as a whole."

It is understood Ataer are planning to be long-term investors in the business rather than looking for short-term return.

Last week it emerged that a Chinese steelmaking firm had entered into advanced discussions about buying the company, and other parties are preparing plans for the long-term future of the business.

Mr Houchen said that other bidders for the company are in accelerated discussions with the Official Receiver and Government to buy the business, as the exclusivity period with Ataer has now concluded.

He said: "The other bidders are extremely credible and are strategic investors who understand the steel industry and are preparing plans to support the long-term future of the business.

"The Government reaffirmed their commitment to continue to underwrite the running of the business until a sale is concluded.

"So the indemnity will remain in place, giving security and comfort to workers, clients and suppliers alike.

"The workforce continue to do themselves proud and are working extremely hard in this difficult period.

"They’re putting their best foot forward and showing why this is such an amazing business."

British Steel employs 700 people at its North-East sites in Lackenby and Skinningrove and has thousands of workers across the country.

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

Mr Houchen added that although the most recent discussions were positive, there was still work to be done.