ONE of Hampshire's biggest employers was today accused of replacing its workforce with cheap labour in India.

Ordnance Survey has signed a £23 million deal with a firm based in New Delhi to produce a digital map of the UK.

Workers today expressed fury about the contract following Daily Echo revelations that 300 jobs are to go from the national mapping agency.

Bosses at the Maybush, Southampton-based company have strenuously denied a connection between the job losses and the contract with the firm whose headquarters are based in Denmark.

But angry workers say that valuable British jobs are being hived-off to cheaper labour in the Indian sub-continent.

One insider said: "Not only is Ordnance Survey management deciding to reduce staff but most of its cartographic work is now going to India.

"In time, probably within the next two years, there will be no cartographic work carried out at Ordnance Survey headquarters. All headquarters will be is a warehouse for digital map data, to be sold out to cheap labour so it can be turned into maps."

The five-year deal has been signed with a subsidiary of Danish company, Kampsax, based in New Delhi. The firm will supply an updated digital map covering a large part of Great Britain which includes aerial photography.

Yesterday it was revealed how bosses at Ordnance Survey based in Southampton said that 300 jobs across the historic organisation, founded in 1791, will be axed in a radical restructuring plan.

Ordnance Survey is one of the city's biggest employers with 1,450 of its 1,850 staff based in the Romsey Road site.

The job cuts would mean one in six of the national workforce or one in five of Southampton's staff will have gone by March 2004.

In 1970, the mapping agency employed 4,700 people. The latest cuts would mean the agency will only employ 1,550 people in less than two years. OS has also refused to rule out further job cuts.

Ordnance Survey spokesman, Scott Sinclair, said there was "no connection" between the contract with Kampsax and the invitation to workers to consider voluntary redundancy.

He added the five-year deal had been struck in May this year and Kampsax had only issued the news in September.

He said: "They are third party suppliers who provide us with mapping services. This is nothing new. We have been using third party suppliers for ten years. We let contracts to third party suppliers when our existing workforce is fully utilised.

"It is only extra work that is put out to contractors. When we believe there is an advantage of value for money then we have a duty to look at whether we can get best value."