Liberty won an auction for the collapsed Australian mining and steel outfit Arrium. Arrium's steelworks facilities, above, are located in Whyalla, South Australia © Reuters
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Liberty House, the privately owned metals group, has completed a hat-trick of transactions this month with the purchase of two Tata Steel mills in north-east England.

The facilities in Hartlepool employ 140 people and manufacture heavy-duty pipes for the energy, power and construction industries worldwide.

They will slot into an industrial jigsaw that Liberty House has been piecing together over the past two years, as the UK-based group rapidly expands beyond its roots as a commodities trader by snapping up distressed manufacturing businesses.

Liberty won an auction for the collapsed Australian mining and steel outfit Arrium this month, days after securing 145 jobs in northern England with the acquisition of struggling steel outfit Caparo Merchant Bar.

Sanjeev Gupta, the Indian-born businessman who heads Liberty, said the Hartlepool mills could be “a symbol of a new Britain, integrated with the world economy, exporting a world-class product globally once again”.

“[The] pipes business has faced difficulties in recent times due to the downturn in the UK oil and gas sector but we are eager to begin working with management and staff here to regain former market share and explore expansion into new areas,” he added.

The addition of the Hartlepool facilities would take Liberty’s UK workforce to around 5,500 people across more than 30 sites.

For Tata, the divestment will complete a restructuring of its British steel empire, leaving it to concentrate on the rump business centred around the giant Port Talbot steelworks in south Wales that feeds several of its smaller plants around Britain.

It will retain ownership of another mill at Hartlepool that makes tubes.

“The sale is also an important step towards developing a more sustainable future for the rest of our UK business,” said Bimlendra Jha, chief executive of Tata Steel UK.

The Indian group had threatened to quit the UK last year following financial problems, but later changed tack and is now pursuing a European steel merger with German rival ThyssenKrupp.

The sale of the two Hartlepool pipe mills is good news for a Teesside town whose economy has been buffeted by the decline of traditional industry for decades, resulting in entrenched high unemployment.

Andy McDonald, Middlesbrough MP and shadow transport secretary, said: “The government must now look to make significant investments to secure the UK as a world leader in the research, development and production of speciality metals — and, as I have called for many times, what better place to do that than right here on Teesside.”

The deal is expected to complete within the next few months. Neither company disclosed a value for the transaction.

Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community trade union, said: “We look forward to sitting down with Liberty House Group to fully understand the detail of their plans for the business.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.

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