Doubts over 'rescue' for Swan Hunter

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The Independent Online
A NEW plan to save Tyneside's Swan Hunter shipyard was given a cool reception by the company's receivers and union leaders.

The Manchester-based consultancy Organisation Management and Survey (OMS) said it had put together a consortium and could place work with the yard immediately.

Gordon Horsfield, one of the Price Waterhouse receivers, confirmed that OMS had approached him some weeks ago to acquire all the assets. He said: 'To date no acceptable offer has been put to the receivers, nor have we yet seen any evidence of capability to fund such an offer were it to be made.' Discussions with OMS would continue, but the rundown of the yard as work on HMS Richmond is completed would go ahead.

The sale of Swan Hunter's assets is under way, including its intellectual property rights. OMS denied that it went public yesterday to try to forestall further disposals.

The OMS team includes a US shipyard operator, which was not prepared to be named, an aluminium extrusion company, a builder of aluminium ships and a ship repair specialist. David Tristram, managing director of OMS, said he had the financial backing and could immediately place pounds 230m of work with the yard for two 78-metre catamarans for a Greek ferry company.

He said: 'We feel we are now within seven to ten days of going to formal proposals, the acceptance of which is in the hands of the receivers. We believe we could take over the yard by the end of the year.'

Mr Tristram gave no guarantees that the remaining 630 workers at the yard would be retained. He plans to turn Swan Hunter into a builder of merchant vessels and introduce general engineering. He said many of the existing staff would be unsuitable. A complication is that the European Commission has designated Swan Hunter a defence shipbuilder and legal hurdles would need to be overcome. The Department of Trade and Industry had given no guarantees it would lobby on his behalf.

Dick Gonsalez, a union convenor, said: 'As things stand it would be premature today to talk about a knight in shining armour rushing to the rescue at the 11th hour.' Nick Brown, Newcastle East Labour MP, said: 'If this is a speculative bid built on media statements then it is a very cruel way to try to take advantage of the plight of Tyneside's shipbuilding community. Mr Tristram should put up or shut up.'

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