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Smart axes 180 in strategic review

'Low margin businesses' also face the chop

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Troubled telecommunications company Smart Telecom on Friday laid off a further 180 people after completing a strategic review of its operation.

The announcement was made to the London Stock Exchange and came as something of a surprise as the strategic review undertaken by NCB Stockbrokers was not expected for another fortnight.

A company spokesman confirmed the redundancies to ENN and said Smart is due to reduce its workforce from its August figure of 348 to 100 over a three month period.

"We're prepared to clarify factual details, but other than that we have no comment," said the spokesman, before adding that further redundancies are expected as part of the "process".

"It's human nature that - given what's going on - [staff] are upset and disappointed that people they know are losing their jobs. We're getting ourselves back in shape and at the end of all this downward cost-cutting people can now look forward to coming in on Monday and get things back on track.

"But that's the last bit of bad news you'll be getting out of us," he added.

As part of the restructuring process stemming from the NCB review, Smart will be selling off its "low margin businesses" including its payphones and pre-paid call card division over the coming months in order to concentrate on growing its corporate and residential broadband business.

Since the current hiatus became public a fortnight ago at Smart's AGM when co-founder and chief executive Oisin Fanning stood down, Smart has been reliant on funding from fellow founder and major shareholder Brendan Murtagh of the Kingspan dynasty to plug the gap; he is supplying a €2.4m loan to Smart.

New chief executive Ciaran Casey said significant challenges remain for Smart but that he was satisfied with the outcome of the strategic review.

"The decision by key investors to support the new strategy is very positive news for our customers, staff, and other stakeholders," he said. "I believe that the review will bring Smart very quickly to a cost base appropriate to our revenues and will reposition the company for growth within broadband and corporate services."

The company requires additional equity funding - presumably to continue upgrading its broadband infrastructure - and Smart's board has engaged financial adviser Hugh Cooney of BDO Simpson Xavier to assist with deciding the most appropriate form that this fundraising should take.

At the same time, executive directors Paul Sullivan and Maria Pearl Roche are resigning from the board, as is non-executive director Ken Barry.

Although Smart said it had 2,000 broadband customers waiting to be connected above its current figure of 17,100 residential broadband customers, first half financial figures show sales down 15 per cent to €20.3m from €23.7m last year.

An increase in administrative expenses of 61 per cent - mainly due to the hiring (then letting-go) of a 130-strong feet-in-the-street broadband sales team, and a massive advertising campaign - contributed to an operating loss of €17.9m.

The six monthly figures also include an asset write down of €4.1m and Smart has completely written off the €9.9m spent on its still-before-the-High Court bid for a 3G mobile phone licence.

After accounting for these exceptional items, the operating loss for the six month period totals €31.9m and after depreciation and amortisation, €35m.

Copyright © 2006, ENN

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