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Britain writes off loan to co-op

Britain's Conservative government has written off a $:9 million state loan to a workers' cooperative that was supported by a former Labour Cabinet minister, Tony Benn, but has been facing bankruptcy during the past year.

The waiving of the Meridan motorcycle coop's debt to the Export Credits Guarantee Department is conditional upon the company's selling off $:2 million of more than $:4 million of Triumph machine stocks in the United States. A spokesman for the famous British Triumph motorcycle manufacturer said that the company, owned by Norton Villiers until its collapse in 1974, would be in a position to raise the required $:2 million capital from current exports to America.

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Helped by an initial state loan of $:4 million and subsequent credits awarded by the last Labour government, Meridan has been struggling against fierce international competition to keep the United Kingdom as a significant contender in world motorcyle production. The co-op, which sold 1,200 machines to the Nigerian Army last year, is hoping to wind up another multimillion-pound contract soon.

Formerly employing 700 men and once producing 350 motorcylces weekly, Meriden has been forced by the world recession to cut its staff to 160. Current production is 60 machines weekly -- which may be increased to 100 -- and the co-op pays its workers an average of $:81 for a five-day week.

Meriden is the last surviving workers cooerative started with the help of government loans when Tony Benn held office as industry minister in the Harold Wilson administration.

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