1,300 jobs axed across country

RUSSELL HOTTEN

More than 1,300 redundancies in the steel, electricity and shipbuilding industries were announced yesterday, although electronics company Fujitsu lifted the gloom with news of 500 new jobs.

British Steel is shedding 520 staff and Eastern Electricity 400. And another job 415 cuts were announced at Yarrow shipyard, owned by GEC, the defence electronics giant which purchased the VSEL submarine maker earlier this year.

However, Fujitsu confirmed an pounds 816m expansion at its County Durham plant which will double the size of the workforce to 1,000.

It is the second big foreign investment in a semiconductor plant in north east England, coming on top of Siemens announcement last month.

When GEC fought off British Aerospace to win VSEL, it said there were no plans to rationalise the two yards and it intended to keep both open.

Ian Jackson, personnel manager, said yesterday: "That situation is unchanged. This redundancy was predicted many, many months ago - long before GEC purchased VSEL."

However, Richard Leonard, assistant secretary of the Scottish TUC said: "Some job cuts had been anticipated, but not now and not on this scale." He said this suggested that the redundancies were about more than just a gap in the order book. "It looks as though the takeover of the VSEL may already be fuelling long-term rationalisation at the Clyde yard."

The losses, out of a 3,100-strong workforce, will be mostly among the metal workers who build the hulls. Yarrow currently has one Type 23 frigate awaiting launch, and four ships in the water being finished off, with no orders in prospect until the end of the year, when the government is due to place new frigate contracts.

Meanwhile, British Steel said its Wednesfield tubes and pipes plant will close by the end of December at a cost of pounds 8m, including redundancy payments.

The plant has been a consistent loss-maker because of overcapacity and competition from more modern facilities producing seamless tubes for the oil and gas market. "There is no prospect of this situation improving," the company said.

At Eastern Electricity, Britain's largest electricity supplier, union leaders were angry at the job losses, which followed hard on the heels of the company's agreed takeover bid by corporate giant Hanson.

Unison said it was told the takeover would not lead to job losses.

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