900 jobs to go in Stationery Office revamp

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The Stationery Office, formerly the government-controlled HMSO, is to cut 900 jobs as part of a re-structuring programme less than two months after it was privatised. The shake-up is designed to halt the group's heavy losses and make a small profit next year.

The jobs losses - a third of the group's total - will be spread evenly across the group's head office in Norwich as well as its 31 plants in London, Manchester and Scotland. The largest number of workers are employed in Scotland.

The company said it hoped to achieve most of the cuts via voluntary redundancies before Christmas. The rest will go by March and compulsory redundancies have not been ruled out. The Stationery Group employs 2,500 staff.

The announcement sparked an angry response from unions who said they would mount a challenge over the size of the cuts. Union representative Mick Hardy said: "After only six weeks in the private sector, all our new members now know the true cost of privatisation, as a further 900 people face the prospect of Christmas on the dole."

Ian Bonnar, human resources director, said: "The business as it stands today is not viable. We have to take this action to enable us to compete effectively."

HMSO was renamed the Stationery Office when it was privatised at the beginning of October in a deal worth pounds 54m. The group's backers, including Electra Fleming and Bank of Scotland, said at the time that job cuts would be necessary to ensure the group's long-term future.

The Stationery Office has a turnover of pounds 360m but recorded losses of pounds 60m this year and pounds 45m in 1995. These losses are incurred by the taxpayer.

The re-structure is the work of new chief executive Bob Thian, former chief executive of North West Water. He intends to streamline the group into four business units.

These are printing, publishing, businesses supplies and facilities management. Each will be headed by a newly appointed chief executive.

Fred Perkins formerly European head of McGraw Hill Publishing, has been appointed chief executive of publishing. The heads of the three remaining divisions will be announced later.

Bob Thian said: "The Stationery Office has a sound business base with some high quality products - particularly in the area of parliamentary publishing with Hansard and the parliamentary order paper. But we must undergo substantial change if we are to reverse the current losses.

"The more we looked at the business, the more we became convinced of its potential. But there is a lot to do if we are to unlock that potential. We are currently operating on unacceptable low margins."

Human resources director Ian Bonnar said the group was planning extensive training programmes for staff to improve efficiency. He added: "There will also be an employee share ownership scheme and part of the equity of the company has been set aside to enable employees to share in the success of the Stationery Office."

The job losses will force the group to take a heavy re-structuring charge.