London: Management buyout firm Excalibur and Indian-origin businessman Sanjeev Gupta's Liberty House, the two front-runners in the race to acquire Tata Steel's UK assets, are believed to be considering joining forces, it emerged Sunday.
Excalibur, led by former chief of Tata Steel's Port Talbot plant Stuart Wilkie, is considering backing Liberty House.
An Excalibur delegation, including chief executive Wilkie and chairman Roger Maggs, held talks with Gupta on Friday at his London office, The Sunday Times reported.
They are understood to have discussed backing Gupta's plan to convert the vast steelworks into one fed by scrap metal rather than raw iron ore and coke.
The Tata Group has set a deadline of noon on Monday for final bids for its British steel operations, with its board set to finalise a shortlist at a meeting in Mumbai on Wednesday, the report claimed.
UK business secretary Sajid Javid is set to fly to Mumbai ahead of the sale and has offered to pump in hundreds of millions pounds of loans and take a 25 per cent stake to prevent the steelworks from collapsing.
Seven bidders have emerged as being in the running for the steelworks since March when Tata announced plans to sell its loss-making units as a result of a global slump in steel prices due to a glut of exports from China and high energy costs.
Around 11,000 jobs at Port Talbot in Wales and 11 other UK sites hang in the balance.
Besides Liberty House and Excalibur, family investment fund Greybull Capital, India's second-biggest steel maker JSW Steel, China's Hebei Iron and Steel group, US steel giant Nucor and Leeds-based turnaround fund Endless are among those interested to save the works.
Greybull, which is buying Tata's Scunthorpe steelworks for a token 1 pound, is believed to be keen on a deal for Port Talbot.
However, JSW last week distanced itself, saying its interest was "exploratory".
Gupta's acquisition plan revolves around gradually replacing blast furnaces with electric arc furnace on the site, as part of his company's GreenSteel strategy.
Liberty and Excalibur declined to comment at this stage.
The UK government said, "Officials and ministers have spoken to numerous interested parties to discuss specific proposals."