ALMOST 40 jobs are to be axed as a result of the merger of two branches of a Government-funded organisation providing support to businesses in Wyre Forest and Shropshire.

Business Link's combined Worcestershire and Herefordshire branch will unite with its Shropshire counterpart on Friday, April 1 to form Business Link West Mercia.

The new organisation will concentrate its range of business support on small to medium-sized organisations - SMEs - and specialise in rural economic development. It will also have a strong focus on innovation.

After 39 people are made redundant across the two existing Business Links, the new one will employ more than 140 and have offices in Worcester, Hereford, Telford and Oswestry.

Christine Jones, who will be chief executive in the new set-up, said: "Through the creation of Business Link West Mercia, we aim to raise both the aspirations and performance of the business community in the three counties.

"Both Business Links have been extremely successful, with both rated in the top Business Links in the country, but we cannot rest on our laurels and we have to ensure we remain at the forefront of business support services in the region."

She added: "As a bigger entity, we should be able to attract more funding, which will be channelled back into the businesses that we serve. We will also be able to offer more products and services to our clients.

"We will also have a louder voice in both Westminster and Brussels and we will truly represent the interests of the rural business community with both the regional development agencies and also the British Chambers of Commerce."

The Chambers of Commerce representing Worcestershire and Herefordshire and Shropshire, respectively, will remain separate. A new business services company will provide core functions.