British industrial gases firm BOC Group will lay off 12 per cent of its workforce after becoming the latest international group to be hit by Asia's financial crisis. Reduced demand for its products in the region and the high value of the pound have coincided with a long-running strategic overhaul of the group's activities. The company is to focus more on gases and operate along individual business lines, rather than on a regional basis. It has sold its principal healthcare business Ohmeda for GBP607 million (about HK$7.67 billion) and its carbide business Odda Smelteverke. It is planning to withdraw from other non-core activities. 'Regrettably, restructuring on this scale will result in a significant number of job losses worldwide,' the company said. 'Every effort will be made to reduce the impact by voluntary redundancy and natural wastage.' The company will cut 4,900 jobs within the next six months - including 500 in Britain - and will announce a further 1,500 redundancies over the next two years. 'This will result from a combination of standardised and simplified business processes, alignment of functional support with the lines of business, and more concentration of transaction processing,' the firm said. The group said the sluggish 6 per cent rise in turnover to GBP2.5 billion and 6 per cent operating profit growth to GBP357.3 million in the nine months to the end of June reflected the pound's strength. BOC said the declines in the South African rand and Australian dollar had had the most impact but conditions in Asia - 'which showed no sign of improvement' - had also affected performance. Third-quarter operating profits fell 8 per cent to GBP98.3 million, on turnover which had declined 15 per cent to GBP687 million. 'These poor conditions are having a damaging effect on Australian manufacturing activity, where a significant portion of sales is to the Pacific region.' In its main gases business, operations in the North Pacific region saw an increase in turnover and a largely flat operating profit, with margins increasing in Japan, but Indonesia had a sharp impact on the group's operations in the region as 'the recent turmoil took its toll', BOC said. It said profits in the South Pacific and South Asia region were hit both by less favourable exchange rates and difficult trading conditions in Australia and New Zealand. The group's shares rose almost 2 per cent yesterday as analysts applauded the results of the strategic review but the job losses drew sharp comments from politicians and trade union leaders. Britain's Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott blamed the state of the world economy. Unions also blamed the strong pound and high interest rates. Parliament's employment select committee chairman Derek Foster said: 'Manufacturing industry is being hit by a triple whammy: the collapse of Far East markets, the overvalued pound, and high interest rates.'