French suggest Swan Hunter staff buyout

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The Independent Online
SOFFIA, the French group hoping to buy Swan Hunter shipyard, is talking to union officials about an employee buyout to save the business. As part of a deal the company hopes to persuade Lloyds Bank, Swan Hunter's principal receiver, to turn its debt into an equity stake.

Yesterday Soffia complained that the Rosyth shipyard was able to undercut other bidders for the vital Sir Bedivere refit contract because of cross-subsidies. Soffia had said it would purchase Swan Hunter only if the yard was given the Sir Bedivere business.

Iskander Safa, head of Soffia, is trying to put a revised bid in place before 1 August. The Ministry of Defence has offered Swan Hunter a pounds 6m refit contract if the yard is on a viable financial footing by then.

'If Swan Hunter is to survive all the parties involved must form a partnership,' a spokesman said. But any deal depends on the MoD placing further orders with Swan Hunter to guarantee two years' work. The yard is due to close when existing contracts run out in November, and Soffia will not buy it unless there is definite work.

The spokesman said: ''There are plenty of refit orders that could be placed without going out to competitive tender. If there is the political will Swan Hunter could survive.' However, the MoD has said it has no immediate plans to give more work to the yard.

In a letter to the Independent published today Fred Henderson, chairman of Soffia's CMN Support Services division, said Rosyth's pounds 30m bid for the Sir Bedivere was pounds 10m lower than Swan Hunter's because it had been promised other work by the MoD.

All initial bids were about pounds 50m, he said. 'It is axiomatic that Rosyth will expect to recover any shortfalls through their pricing on the guaranteed non-competitive refits.'