British Coal to sell off non-mining businesses

BRITISH COAL is to sell its non- mining operations, which employ almost 5,000 people and, at an estimated pounds 500m, may be worth as much as the mines themselves.

The businesses include smokeless fuel manufacture and distribution, computer and consultancy services and the British Coal pensions and insurance centre in Sheffield.

British Coal will consider financial assistance for management buyout teams for the sale. Management is thought to be interested in Coal Products in Derbyshire, Britain's largest manufacturer of smokeless fuels and foundry coke, which may be sold this summer.

Potential bidders should contact Samuel Montagu, which is advising on all the businesses except Coal Products, advised by Price Waterhouse. No decision has yet been taken on the future of CIN Management, wholly owned by British Coal and the investment manager for its pension funds.

It is also not clear who will control and fund the research laboratories or British Coal Enterprise, a job creation company operating in coal mining areas which has a large property portfolio, not all of which will pass to companies taking over the mines.

Coal Investments, run by Malcolm Edwards, former commercial director of British Coal, has joined the Union of Democratic Mineworkers to bid for coal mines in the five regional packages due to be privatised later this year.

British Nuclear Fuels, the state-owned nuclear reprocessing company, is to shed more than 2,000 jobs at Sellafield, Cumbria, and Chapelcross, Dumfries and Galloway. Sellafield will bear the brunt of the cuts, which will be made over five years and are intended to reduce BNFL's operating costs by pounds 100m.

BNFL said the reductions were in addition to 400 redundancies at Sellafield announced in February. The cuts would have been much worse had the company not received the go-ahead for the controversial Thorp reprocessing plant which began operating in March.