More red faces over Cabinet's Rovers

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The Independent Online

The Government is facing further embarrassment over the collapse of MG Rover: it has just bought three new Rover saloon cars for its Cabinet ministers.

The Government is facing further embarrassment over the collapse of MG Rover: it has just bought three new Rover saloon cars for its Cabinet ministers.

Officials are trying to delay delivery of the cars until after the general election next month, to avoid drawing voters' attention to the plight of Britain's last big car maker, which has gone into administration.

The three automatic Rover 75 cars - one each in red, silver and blue - were ordered at the beginning of this month, when the Government still hoped it could save the company.

But they have been sitting in a factory since MG Rover went into administration two weeks ago. A spokesman for the Government Car and Dispatch Agency (GCDA), which is part of the Cabinet Office, insisted that senior ministers would use the cars soon, but did not specify when. "They will not be stored up," he insisted.

The £20,000 cars will be the first, and last, delivery on an exclusive agreement for Rover to supply the Cabinet with petrol-powered cars. The agreement, signed by Tony Blair at the beginning of the year, came after three years of lobbying by MG Rover.

The company has complained that the Government has not done enough to support the car maker, for example by using its cars in public to boost its image. Other European governments usually only use national car manufacturers' vehicles for public duties.

Mr Blair angered MG Rover executives when he took delivery last May of two specially fitted, armour-plated Rover 75 cars, but then did not use them. Baroness Thatcher and Health Secretary John Reid are using them instead.

One MG Rover source said he suspected that the order had originally been made as a PR stunt. "All the help was too little, too late," he said. The GCDA denies that the order was politically motivated.

It has also emerged that Shanghai Automotive Industry Association (SAIC), which pulled out of a rescue joint venture deal with MG Rover, could challenge any attempt by the car maker's administrators, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to sell any of its main assets. SAIC claims that it owns the intellectual property to the Rover 25, 45 and 75 models, as well as the Powertrain engines which are also used for MG sports cars. It says this prevents other companies from trying to make these cars.

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