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As Tickford only refits carriages it needs to form a partnership with a company that knows how to refurbish locomotives to be sure of winning future business from British Rail. Energy: This is another area where partnerships or joint ventures could be crucial to Babcock's future.In the past, it was the natural supplier of boilers to UK-funded GEC power stations built all over the UK and the old British empire.Boots and WH Smith have also been in discussions with possible buyers for the company, although a spokesman for Boots asserted that reports that 'parcels of stores' had been marketed to other retailers were untrue.In August, WH Smith, which owns 50 per cent, said its share of Do It All's losses for the year to May was Pounds 14.3m, with sales down 7.3 per cent.But GEC Alsthom, inheritor of the GEC power plants business, has its own boiler makers in France and Germany, and Babcock has to fight much harder to win business.It is also having to respond to the need for more local content in big Far Eastern contracts, which explains why the Renfrew plant has seen employment fall by 400 to 1,150 in the past few months.
'If they want to expand in the Far East, and cope with the penalty clauses, no money up front, and slow progress payments in modern contracting, it is obvious that the balance sheet will have to expand,' says Mr Jonathan Getz at Robert Fleming Securities.The two new men are not talking yet about their plans for the company, but a rigorous review of the business over the past year by Lord King and Mr Jeff Whalley, who has been acting chief executive since May and will remain as joint deputy chairman with Mr Parker, has laid the ground and pointed the way ahead.The picture that emerges is a company that is, in Mr Whalley's words, 'clean and tidy,' with no more shocks in store for shareholders.With a new team running the contract, Mr Whalley says he feels much more comfortable, and is confident that the first two of six FGD units will be handed over to National Power on December 17.
The problem at Drax, however, highlights a broader issue that the new chiefs at Babcock will have to resolve.Inevitably, the bad financial news rather overshadowed the appointment of Mr Parker, who joins Babcock after 10 years as chairman and chief executive of Harland and Wolff, the Belfast ship builder, and Mr Salmon, formerly deputy managing director of GEC Alsthom's gas turbine and diesel division.However, the appointments could mark a turning point in Babcock's fortunes, and those of its two new chiefs.If a Pounds 15m provision can cause such havoc financially, is the company big enough to survive in the risky world of contracting?