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There are hopes that a last-minute bid for Britishvolt, which plans a factory to make electric car batteries, may prevent it falling into administration.
The potential new bidders have been described as “a British consortium”, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The financially troubled manufacturer called a management meeting on Monday and postponed a staff meeting until Tuesday.
Shareholders have voted on who will take over the project to build a £4bn battery factory in Northumberland.
There are two existing bids for the Blyth Port project – one from an Indonesia-linked investment group whose UK subsidiary is dormant and has no manufacturing track record, and another from a group of existing small investors who want to avoid the value of their shares disappearing entirely.
The takeover is thought to cost around £30m.
If none of the bidders can secure support from 75% of shareholders, the company would be left drained of cash and heading for an administration it only narrowly avoided at the end of last year after an emergency lifeline was extended by one of its investors, the commodity trading giant Glencore.
Industry watchers have expressed dismay that a plant considered critical to the future of U.K. auto manufacturing is being threatened in this way.
Even if this new bidder wins, doubts remain about the willingness of potential customers to place an order for a prototype battery technology with a company with no track record.
Privately, those in the know have expressed surprise and dismay that the government has not taken a more active role in shaping the outcome of such an important program.
The BBC understands another request was £11.5m and then only £3m. Government sources say the seeds of deep doubts about the company’s viability have been sown.
Some in the government have expressed a desire to administratively dissolve the company in its current form, allowing more serious players to take over the project.
Candidates mentioned include Tata, Jaguar Land Rover’s Indian parent company, Chinese company Envision, which has Britain’s only existing Sunderland battery plant for exclusive use by Nissan, and a potential South Korean manufacturer.
While efforts to resolve the future of this critical facility have failed, there are 35 battery facilities across the EU in various stages of construction.
The question is whether Britain has – or needs – an industrial strategy.
Former business secretary Greg Clark launched a strategy back in 2016, although the Conservative Party has been skeptical of the idea of opening up government to private sector involvement.
The term was seen as synonymous with “picking winners” and was all but banned when Kwasi Kwarteng took over at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Support (Beis) and subsequently the Treasury.
But Mr Clark said at the time that instead of picking winners, the government should ask strategic questions, such as: Do we need more batteries, satellites, medicines and more?
It must also shape support through grants and links with academic and industrial bodies in sectors where the UK excels and the future economy needs.
Insiders at BEIS now say they are not working to any particular plan. Of the current situation at Britishvolt, one said, “if they can raise capital privately then they should be allowed to do that”, while stressing that government help of £100m was still available to whomever hit specific construction milestones.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. By 2026, the majority of a car’s value must come from the UK or the EU to be eligible for duty-free export to the bloc, where most UK-made cars are sold.
On a more positive note, everyone seems to agree that the Blyth location is perfect for building plants. It has broad industrial and political support, and when key stakeholders are engaged, it promises to happen.
But industry experts say Britain needs at least four battery factories to support domestic car production and is looking at Britishvolt’s chaotic development with despair and dismay.
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