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Tuesday, July 6, 1999 Published at 17:55 GMT 18:55 UK

Business: The Company File

'We'll do all we can for Kvaerner' - Blair

There has been some humour in the yard

The prime minister has praised the "passion and dignity" of the 1,200 workers at Kvaerner's Glasgow Govan shipyard, which is at the centre of on-off sale negotiations.

Business reporter Hayley Miller with the latest from the yard
Speaking in the Commons, Tony Blair said: "Everybody knows that those skills are valuable to Scotland, they're valuable to the UK - we'll do all we can to keep them."

He was responding to calls for government assistance following after GEC Marconi finally tabled a bid after prolonged negotiations, only for it to be rejected hours later by Kvaerner.

Letters protest

Union leaders travelled to London to hand back unopened all the redundancy notices issued to the yard's 850 permanent staff.

Union convener Jamie Webster described the events of the past 24 hours as "elation to despair - a sword through the heart".

[ image: Workers' hopes have been dashed]
Workers' hopes have been dashed
Bill Speirs, General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congresss, said: "Whatever it takes - John Reid, Tony Blair or the recall of the Scottish Parliament, we believe that whatever needs to be done, should be done."

Sir Gavin Laird, Chairman of the taskforce set up to help secure the yard's future, said he was "devastated" but that GEC remained Govan's best hope.

"The workforce don't deserve this," he said. "One minute we're nearly there, the next minute we're in a trough of despair."

Sir Gavin Laird: "An emotional rollercoaster"
Sir Gavin firmly rejected any prospect of the yard going into public ownership.

"We have said from the very beginning this would be a commercially-driven deal.

"In this day and age to talk of public ownership of a shipyard is a piece of nonsense.

"That would be an exercise in kidology for the workforce and I am not doing that."

'Substantially short'

Kvaerner said the offer from GEC fell "very substantially short" of what was needed to secure the Clyde yard's future.

[ image: A viable future is sought]
A viable future is sought
Unions and politicians had welcomed news of the bid as a possible end to uncertainty for the yard, following Kvaerner's declaration in April that it was selling off its shipbuilding interests.

With an offer on the table, there were calls to Kvaerner to tear up its request for 250 redundancies, issued on Monday.

But a Kvaerner spokesman said the process of seeking redundancies would now "take its course".

"To our surprise and disappointment the bid proposes no more than the indicative offer made before last weekend. In fact, the offer is considerably worse in essence.

BBC Scotland business reporter Hayley Miller has been at the yard
"GEC and Marconi Marine have offered to buy the assets of Govan for £1m but with the added requirement that Kvaerner remains responsible for the cost of redundancy for a period of up to five years.

"Needless to say this offer falls very substantially short of representing a balanced solution for the yard."

A spokesman for GEC said: "GEC are surprised and disappointed at the somewhat dismissive nature of the rejection of our offer and that apparently Kvaerner have not considered the offer seriously."

'Shattering blow'

Unions said the rejection would come as a shattering blow for the workforce, who had briefly experienced a glimmer of hope.

[ image: Jamie Webster:
Jamie Webster: "Sickened"
Workers had been holding out hope talks between GEC and Kvaerner, and the intervention of the taskforce, would secure the future of the site.

Jamie Webster said: "I don't know what my reaction is. I feel physically sick."

Jim Moohan, Regional Industrial Officer for the GMB, said: "Kvaerner and GEC are now holding the workforce to ransom.

"People are within days of redundancy, and I don't think we can stand by and let this take place. If there is a shortfall, let's knock some heads together and try to solve it."

'Work must continue'

Dr Reid said: "I am disappointed the bid has been rejected by Kvaerner. However, now we know GEC have confirmed an interest in buying the yard, the work to bring both sides together must continue."

First Minister Donald Dewar said "every effort" would be made to ensure talks between the two companies continue.

John Swinney, the Scottish National Party Shadow Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, said: "It is now essential that the government taskforce works with all parties towards a credible and viable future for the workforce."

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