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Ashtead sends off Sunbelt president

PLANT

GEORGE BURNETT, the chairman of troubled hirer Ashtead, has taken personal charge of the US Sunbelt Rentals operation, in a move widely seen as a bid to restore confidence in the business.

Mr Burnett has dispensed with the services of Sunbelt president Bruce Dressel, in the wake of the accounting irregularities that left the US hirer with a £5 million black hole in its 2002/3 results and put the group in default of its banking agreements.

Analysts said that, while Mr Dressel was not responsible for the financial problems, as chief executive he has to be seen to bear the responsibility.

He is reported to have departed with a package worth more than half a million pounds.

Last month Ashtead announced a pre-tax loss of £42.2 million on turnover down £45 million to £539 million.

Mr Burnett has relocated to the US operation 'for the forseeable future' to restore confidence among customers and shareholders. Senior Sunbelt management will report to him directly.

In an unrelated move, Ashtead's deputy chairman Alan Wheatley has announced he is to retire from the board in September after nine-and-a-half years' service.

At the same time, the UK A-Plant subsidiary has sold two of its operations and further depots in a bid to reduce debt.

It has sold equipment and ongoing contracts of its Big Air compressor arm to Speedy Power for £4 million.

Speedy Power will lease one depot from Big Air, while its other two locations will remain with A-Plant.

A-Plant has also disposed of its mastclimbing business to Glasgow specialist Mastclimbers for £1.4 million and raised a further £1 million from the sale of hire depots in Mansfield and Bedford.

But the hirer has also strengthened its general fleet with the purchase of £500,000worth of mini excavators from compact specialist Bobcat.