ONE of the largest employers in the Valleys has announced it is to axe almost 100 jobs. Yuasa Battery, based on the Rassau industrial estate in Blaenau Gwent, has said it will be cutting 97 jobs but will create 40 new posts as part of "organisational restructuring".

A spokesman said: "The chances of those being made redundant applying for the new positions will depend on contractual negotiations and union consultation."

Both the cuts and the new posts will be in staff and managerial positions and will not be made before March 2003.

The company, which is the second-largest employer in Blaenau Gwent after the local authority, with 750 staff on its books, said the changes are necessary in the wake of increased competition from the Asian economy.

The company believes it would lose £2 million in 2003 alone if it does not make these cuts.

Representatives from Blaenau Gwent county borough council and the WDA have held urgent meetings with the company to discuss the situation.

Councillor Dennis Owens, executive member for economic regeneration at Blaenau Gwent council, said: "It's a very distressing announcement just before Christmas, especially if it concerns young people with families and mortgages.

"The authority will do everything it can to assist, either with retraining or other support services."

He added: "It is most unfortunate, but we appreciate the pressures the company is operating under, and understand the efforts senior managers are making.

"Yuasa Battery is a major business in this area, employing over 700 people. The management has always shown confidence and commitment to Blaenau Gwent. "We have been assured that Yuasa Europe has a confident future in Ebbw Vale as a result of this restructuring.

"We have offered our assistance with retraining or other business support to help boost prospects for the future."