Marconi offers lifeline to Rover workers

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The Independent Online

Britain beat off global competition to win a £100m investment in the West Midlands by Marconi, the communications group, that will create 2,200 jobs. The company said it picked Britain over countries such as the US because of its manufacturing skills base and the shortage of skilled workers elsewhere.

The company said it would interview every worker made redundant from the nearby Rover plant at Longbridge for a job at its new site.

Marconi is building a technology communications centre at Ansty, near Coventry, that will create 2,200 permanent jobs over five years and 700 temporary construction jobs.

Marconi is moving from a site in the centre of Coventry, which is now too small. The new site will include facilities making hi-tech parts for use in the internet and new technology sectors.

Lord Simpson, Marconi's chief executive, said it had looked at several alternative sites before opting for the West Midlands. "There was a real chance this could have gone elsewhere in the world."

He said a £25m regional assistance grant from the Department of Trade and Industry was another key factor. He also cited Marconi's close contacts with the local universities. "This is an expression of our confidence in the region and in the workforce of the area," he said.

Lord Simpson said he was keen to take on as many skilled workers in the West Midlands as possible because of the global skill shortage. The new jobs will include software, hardware and electronic engineers, operations engineers, researchers and marketing consultants.

Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said: "Marconi has agreed that any workers made redundant from Longbridge will be given an interview and if they are suitable, retrain them for jobs at the Ansty site.

"But it would be a mistake to say that what is happening at Longbridge is dictating this offer over the new jobs." He said the Government and Marconi wanted to attract a "cluster" of hi-tech employers to the area.

Mr Byers said the DTI had contacted Marconi to press the case for the West Midlands when it heard the investment might go to Pittsburgh in the US.

The £25m grant will come from the £129m the Government promised the West Midlands area after Rover's problems emerged.

* UK engineering is facing skills shortages, the GMB union warned yesterday. It said apprentices in engineering training slumped from 74,000 in 1990 to 38,000 last year - not enough to sustain industries by replacing skilled workers leaving.

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