Comment: A slice of the steam age disappears

Another little slice of our industrial heritage passed away yesterday as Siemens went to Newcastle and picked up a steam turbine generating business to go with the silicon chip plant it already boasts. Now that the Germans have picked Parsons clean, this presumably leaves the rump of the company to slip quietly into the night when Newcastle finishes work on its two remaining Indian power station orders early next year.

When Britain had an empire and Sir Charles Parsons revolutionised naval warfare by inventing the steam turbine, the North-east truly ruled the world as well as powering it. Sadly, times have long since moved on. Not even Rolls-Royce's ill-starred attempt to wring some synergy out of making gas turbines for jumbo jets as well as power stations could save Parsons.

Last year it booked a meagre pounds 150m of turbine sales compared with the pounds 3bn clocked up by its new German owners. Jurgen Gehrels, chief executive of Siemens in the UK, kindly attributes this to Parsons' lack of global reach. But the truth is it could not even pick up business in its own back yard, the dash for gas by the UK electricity industry being realised largely with kit supplied from Germany.

Apart from Mr Gehrels' soft spot for Newcastle - he even produced a football shirt at yesterday's press conference - it is hard to see why Siemens was so keen to snap up any of Parsons. True, it gets its hands on the juicy spares business from all those Parson's customers dotted around the Commonwealth. But it also inherits the millstone of Parson's under- utilised manufacturing facilities - when capacity is something the world steam turbine industry is hardly short of.

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