1,000 jobs axed in Manweb bid battle

MARY FAGAN

Industrial Correspondent

Manweb, the regional electricity company fighting a pounds 1bn bid by Scottish Power, has cut 1,000 jobs since March. The figures emerge in the company's first formal defence document, which promises to "release substantial value to shareholders" in cash and the company's shares in the National Grid.

Manweb declined to give figures, but some analysts expect that the package is unlikely to be as generous as the pounds 5 per share being paid by Northern Electric.

John Roberts, Manweb chief executive, said: "At this stage we have no tangible detail but we have a very strong balance sheet and very high dividend cover. We will exploit all the options available to us."

One analyst believes the defence from Manweb could be delivered as a pounds 400m package, worth about pounds 4 per share including cash, preference shares and the grid shares.

Manweb's defence focuses on the company's adherence to the core distribution and supply business, and its attention to costs. Mr Roberts said that Manweb had a better record of cutting distribution and supply costs than Scottish Power and had reduced its head-count ahead of forecast. The latest job reductions would leave the workforce at 2,792 compared with 4,561 five years ago.

Manweb's shares fell 1p to 886p yesterday on continued speculation the bid will be referred to the MMC. Elsewhere, bid speculation continued in the sector, with Houston Industries of the US tipped as the next predator. South Wales Electricity is considered vulnerable but recent takeover talk has centred on London Electricity.

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