Deal may protect all but 1,000 jobs

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The Independent Online

Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, raised hopes of thousands of Rover workers yesterday when he revealed that the redundancies at the Longbridge plant could be fewer than 1,000.

Mr Byers told relieved MPs that the deal struck by BMW and the Phoenix consortium would "preserve volume car manufacturing at Longbridge, safeguard the majority of jobs there and minimise the knock-on effect in the supply chain".

When BMW announced in March that it would sell the West Midlands plant, it was predicted that at least 20,000 car industry jobs would be lost. "Today's news finally provides some welcome certainty for the Longbridge site. However, there will still be some redundancies," Mr Byers said.

He added during later exchanges that John Towers, the former Rover executive who heads the Phoenix consortium, hoped the job losses would remain under 1,000.

"Our priority is to do everything we can to help those affected. To provide training and to attract new jobs in the area." Mr Byers announced that the task force would remain in place to help those affected and confirmed that up to £129m of government aid remained available for job creation and economic regeneration.

Angela Browning, the Tory trade and industry spokeswoman, urged ministers to learn lessons from the episode and suggested that Mr Byers should take more interest in Rover's progress, rather than being "the last to know what is happening" in such an important industry.

Martin O'Neill, the Labour MP for Ochil and chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Trade and Industry, paid tribute to both Mr Towers and Mr Byers and their "persistence in backing the Phoenix proposal".

Sir Norman Fowler, the Tory former employment secretary and member of the Rover task force, said: "It is important to stress that recovery has not yet been won and it will almost certainly require some tough decisions by Phoenix...

"It must remain a vital objective that, irrespective of what has happened today, that the industrial base of the West Midlands is expanded and widened."