Outlook: Acid tests for Mrs Blockit
Friday 10 April 1998
Neither bid gives rise to any more than the slightest of competition concerns but, even so, there is some possibility they will be referred. In both cases, unions have raised the bogy of widescale job losses in the event of clearance, the theory being that because the bidders are offering more than rivals, they might seek to recoup the difference with more swingeing cost cuts. In the case of Texas, up to 5,000 jobs are alleged to be at risk, and 1,500 with Investcorp. Both bidders have given guarantees on this front, but Mrs Beckett is being asked not to trust them.
Repeatedly, Mrs Beckett has asserted that the only determinant of mergers policy should be competition. The question is whether she will stick to those guidelines in these cases or confirm her growing reputation in the City as someone who is temperamentally ill disposed to all mergers and takeovers, however benign. Will jobs and union pressure move back to centre stage in mergers policy, is Mrs Beckett a Mrs Blockit, or does she mean what she says? We'll see.
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