Poppies on parade in the private sector

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THE ROYAL British Legion is privatising part of its activities in an effort to boost funds from poppy sales.

The charity will soon announce the formation of a company that will pitch into the competitive world of corporate training. Although charities are not normally allowed to make profits, the Legion has been given special dispensation by the Charity Commissioners to act as a commercial company. Any surpluses will be used to cross-subsidise its other activities, which normally rely on money from poppy sales.

Receipts from Poppy Day have held up well but, charity experts say, they are expected to start dropping soon. At the same time, demand for funds is rising as ageing Second World War veterans need extra help. Last week the legion announced it was merging three factories, including the one that makes poppies, in an effort to cut costs.

The legion has had a training organisation for 15 years - it retrains former service personnel and prepares those about to leave the military. This has intensified since the end of the Cold War and in 1994 it opened a pounds 4.7m training centre in Tidworth on Salisbury Plain - the EU paid pounds 1.4m towards this.

But redundancies from the cuts in defence spending will dry up next year. Having risen from 12,000 a year to 30,000 at the peak, the outflow will fall to 9,000 by 1997. The training centre will then be underemployed.

The new company will compete in the free market against TECs, colleges and private organisations. John Cockram, general manager of the training side, believes he should be able to undercut them. "In London you would pay pounds 400 to pounds 600 for a week's computer course," he said. "We will do it for about pounds 200."

As well as advertising Tidworth's facilities, he hopes to get business from managers who used to be in the Forces, and who would therefore be inclined to trust the legion's standards.