British Energy under fire over 1,400 job cuts

British Energy, the newly privatised nuclear generator, was facing a storm of criticism last night as it confirmed that it is to cut 1,460 jobs just three months after its stock market flotation.

The redundancies, to be phased in over the next three years, will reduce staff levels by a quarter to 4,800. More than half of them will be among operating staff at British Energy's eight nuclear reactors. The remainder will be among administrative and support staff. The company has not ruled out compulsory redundancies.

John Battle, Labour's energy and industry spokesman, called on the President of the Board of Trade, Ian Lang, to apologise at the Conservative Party conference for the privatisation of British Energy. "Today we are seeing 1,460 employees lose their jobs as managers seek to make ends meet in the privatisation that never added up. This privatisation has been a short- term, desperate dash for cash to fund Tory tax cuts and we have all been the losers. Ian Lang must use his chance to say sorry."

Mike Jeram, head of energy at the white-collar union Unison, said British Energy's staff were fed up being treated as "dividend fodder" and warned that the public would want to know how the cuts would affect the future of the company's nuclear reactors.

But a British Energy spokeswoman said there was no question of safety standards being compromised. She said that most of the job cuts were part of a rationalisation programme announced in 1994 and then put on hold following the Government's decision to split the nuclear industry in two and privatise the advanced gas cooled reactor and the Sizewell PWR.

Of the 1,460 job losses, 800 will be among operating staff and 660 will be in support staff. The average number of operating staff per station will fall by 100 or roughly one-fifth. There will be 1,200 job losses in England and Wales and 260 in Scotland. British Energy's Barnwood administrative centre in Gloucestershire will be the hardest-hit site with 450 redundancies.

British Energy estimated savings of pounds 50m. The one-off cost of the restructuring will be pounds 100m which is fully covered by existing provisions.

Discussions have started with the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate about the operational aspects of the job cuts. A spokeswoman said they were far less draconian than those implemented following earlier privatisations of electricity generators.

British Energy said it had no current plans to build new stations in Britain, nuclear, gas or otherwise.

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