The business secretary, Andrea Leadsom, has indicated the government is days away from entering exclusive talks with a buyer for British Steel, thought to be a Turkish military pension fund, raising hopes more than 4,000 jobs and the Scunthorpe steelworks can be saved.
Three bidders remain in the running to buy the stricken steelmaker but in a conference call with Leadsom on Thursday morning, interested parties were told two of them were likely to be excluded.
The frontrunner is understood to be the Turkish military pension fund Oyak, with the government’s official receiver and accountancy firm EY, which is managing the sale, likely to name it as the preferred bidder within days.
A period of due diligence would follow, with a final deal likely to hinge on the extent of the government’s financial support.
Oyak, whose representatives have visited the Scunthorpe steelworks to see its operations first-hand, is the largest shareholder in the Turkish steelmaker Erdemir.
“The secretary of state and EY confirmed this is still the priority. Everyone is working flat out to progress the sale to the next stage. Optimism that this can be achieved soon remains high.”
The pace of talks has accelerated in recent weeks amid pressure from lenders to the business, whose operations have been funded by the government while talks continue.
If the company had collapsed, the government would have had first call on any money that could be retrieved, limiting the extent of creditor refunds.
The Guardian has approached the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for comment.