Oakton bleeds Vic heartland

ASX-listed IT services firm Oakton cut its Victorian headcount by 109 staff over the past year, while continuing to boost resources at its Indian operations, the company reported today in its 2010 half-year earnings.

ASX-listed IT services firm Oakton has continued to pare down its Australian headcount, with Victoria, traditionally its largest centre of operations, bearing the brunt of its cost-saving efforts during the half year to 31 December 2009.

Oakton's Victorian headcount in the last six months was cut by 49 staff, making up the bulk of the 56 drop for the whole company in the second half of 2009. Compared to the same period last year Oakton has cut its headcount in Victoria by 109, leaving it with 429 staff in the state.

Late last year the company was forced to look for a new Victorian chief following former Hewlett-Packard executive Christine Scammell's resignation. Oakton chief Neil Wilson said he was disappointed but was optimistic over her replacement, IBM Global Business Services hire Mark Fretz who joined Oakton in January.

The company was also caught out in December when a number of its Victorian staff who had been working at Victoria's Industry Plumbing Commission resigned.

Meanwhile, Oakton continued to invest in its Indian operations, with its headcount increasing by a further two in the past six months, bringing the total there to 112. Oakton noted its Indian staff would be required in the future as local skills shortages were expected to emerge.

The cut backs over the past calendar has left Oakton with 1101 staff in total, and helped deliver around $8 million in savings over the past 12 months.

Wilson offered a mixed review of the conditions the company has faced. "As the Australian economy continues to emerge from the global financial crisis we anticipate an increased demand for our services; however, the extent and speed of the recovery in the IT market place remains gradual at this stage," he said.

"In recent periods the level of dividend had been reduced, with the aim of strengthening our balance sheet through this period of uncertainty," he added.

Oakton's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) stood at $16.5 million for the period, up $5.28 million on the December 2008, but $1.8 million short of its first half 2007 results. Revenues for this half fell $5 million from $98 million in December 2008 to $93.3 million this period.

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