A BUSINESS to business (B2B) Internet service launched by Blue Circle and Just2Clicks has cemented its future after agreeing an investment deal with an Italian firm.

Italcementi, Italy's largest cement manufacturer, has bought a 37.5 per cent stake in e-cement.com for £3m making it an equal partner with British cement group Blue Circle. Just2Clicks will now hold 25 per cent.

The move comes after the Italian firm, which also owns France's second largest cement producer, Ciments Francais, completed the sector's first ever £3.75m supply, services and plant online auction through e-cement.com.

Carlos Pesenti, MD of Italcementi, said: "Using e-cement.com enabled us to get the best possible price, saving us more time and money than we thought possible.

"B2B is not just about simply auctioning commodities. This deal points the way to a fundamental change in the way that cement and associate industries will operate.

"We are delighted to be taking a significant stake in e-cement.com."

The procurement and cement trading exchange was set up in March this year by North-East Internet firm Just2clicks, which specialises in B2B exchanges.

Working in conjunction with Blue Circle the on-line service provided the first global trading site for the cement industry.

The boost for Blue Circle, which employs 180 workers at its Weardale plant, comes just a month after it announced 350 job losses nationally.

Although the group announced no immediate redundancies at their Eastgate plant, they revealed that a three month efficiency drive at the site had been initiated.

Earlier this year Blue Circle narrowly saw off a hostile £3.65bn takeover bid from French rival Lafarge.