Finger points at Labour as Ericsson denies factory buyer story

Tories accuse Labour of leaking sell-off

The Labour party was accused on Wednesday of playing dirty tricks after Ericsson denied that it was close to finding a buyer for two mobile manufacturing factories in Britain.

Wednesday's Financial Times claimed that Ericsson was in "advanced talks" to sell the two factories, and that a deal was expected to be announced before the general election on 7 June. The two plants, in Scunthorpe and Nottinghamshire, employ over 1,000 people and have been up for sale since March. The FT named trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers as the driving force behind finding the buyer, which was only identified as "probably not another mobile phone maker".

Following the government's failure to stop Motorola, another handset maker, announcing the closure of one of its manufacturing plants in Scotland in April, the news that these two factories were to be saved was welcomed by union officials. Unfortunately, though, Ericsson have now denied that the story is true.

"This story is a little bit premature, and we're not at all sure where the information came from," said an Ericsson spokeswoman who explained that the company was still actively looking for a buyer for the two sites.

So, with Ericsson insisting they haven't found a buyer, there are suggestions that the Labour Party leaked the story in an attempt to attract good publicity.

Shadow technology minister Alan Duncan believes that this is a case of the government trying to take credit for something it hasn't done. " It would not surprise me if the Labour Party were responsible for this story. When government announces something like this to a newspaper, and the company itself is puzzled, then the finger of suspicion is again pointing at the spin machine of this Labour government," said Duncan.

Ericsson doesn't go as far as accusing Labour of creating the rumour and points out that such activity wouldn't be acceptable in the run-up to June's voting. "We'd be surprised if the story came from Labour, but we really don't know. Political parties aren't really allowed to play that sort of game in the run-up to an election," said the Ericsson spokeswoman.

Labour Party officials were not available for comment at press time.

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