Santa shakes it up in Newbury as attention is drawn to plight of Costain employees

Season of goodwill: Costain Independent Shareholders' Association yesterday launched a Christmas appeal for the welfare of staff and subcontractors of the troubled construction group. Carols were sung as Father Christmas shook a collecting tin outside a compound on the route of the controversial Newbury by-pass, where Costain is the main contractor. The action group was drawing attention to Costain's dire financial position.

"We decided to sing carols and collect on the site of the Newbury by- pass since this is deemed to be Costain's greatest liability," said Andrew Wood, CISA's secretary. "Our appeal is for Costain's unfortunate employees and subcontractors who stand to lose most if Costain goes into receivership."

Two weeks ago Costain announced the resignation of its chief executive, Alan Lovell, issued a profits warning, gave details of yet another share issue and announced the sale of its US coal business for far less than had been expected. Environmental protesters plan to turn up at two shareholders' meetings called by Costain. On Friday investors will vote on the coal disposal, while on 6 January they will consider Costain's breach of the Companies Act now that its net assets have fallen below half of the company's called-up share capital.

Photograph: John Lawrence