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Sale looms for Cleveland Bridge as Government refuses aid

TRADE SECRETARY Stephen Byers has ruled out immediate Government financial aid for Darlington bridge builder Cleveland Bridge.

Cleveland faces a fire sale as part of parent Kvaerner's attempt to cut debts by £1bn (NCE 15 April). Byers met Kvaerner Engineering and Construction chairman John Fletcher last week to discuss how the Government could mitigate the effect of the sale on Cleveland and its 300 plus staff.

The meeting confirmed that direct financial aid is not on the table at present. However, talks are continuing to identify other forms of Government support.

Fletcher told NCE that Cleveland is likely to be sold 'within a couple of months'. He added that he was having 'active discussions' with a total of five UK and overseas companies keen to purchase the bridge contractor and its linked fabrications yards in Dubai and Malaysia.

'Several organisations expressed interest in buying the company before we announced it was for sale last week' said Fletcher. 'Since then another international group has approached us.'

Construction analyst with investment broker Merrill Lynch, Mark Hake, said Kvaerner should have little difficulty attracting buyers.

'It will be seen as a forced sell where price is not really the deciding factor and much depends on the perceived cost of any restructuring package,' he said.

Despite 180 redundancies since last September, immediate prospects for Cleveland look brighter and it is predicted to make a 'small profit' this year.

A fortnight ago the company won a £23.5M contract to widen the Tamar suspension bridge between Devon and Cornwall. It was also about to sign a further unnamed £30M fabrication deal just before its proposed sale was announced. Cleveland still hope to close the deal.

Earlier this week Cleveland tendered for Bangladesh's £100M Bhairab Bridge, one of two UK overseas aid projects still in the pipeline through a now defunct 1997 programme.

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