MPs launch inquiry into sell-off of Rover plant

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The Independent Online

The Trade and Industry Select Committee is to investigate the events leading up to BMW's sale of Rover.

News of the investigation came as it was revealed the 9,000-strong workforce at the Rover plant in Longbridge, Birmingham, will start feeling the first effects of the sell-off from today, as shifts are scaled down, reducing the workers' pay by £80 a month.

Martin O'Neill, chairman of the Trade and Industry committee, told BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour yesterday that an inquiry would seek to establish a clear record of the circumstances of the sale, look at options for finding an alternative buyer for Rover and examine the Government's role in the sell-off.

Mr O'Neill said he did not believe that Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, was "culpable" in the matter, adding: "I think if people set out to act in a clandestine fashion - and from what I can gather [of] the discussions he had less than 10 days ago with the director of BMW, the man didn't tell the truth - I don't really know what he is expected to do."

Union leaders complained that the secretive sell-off of Rover by German owners BMW, with the likely loss of thousands of jobs, could not have happened in other European countries because of stricter laws on consultation.

The general secretary of the Manufacturing Science and Finance Union, Roger Lyons, said: "It is a disgrace that British workers get less protection from mass redundancies than their European counterparts.

"The Rover disaster must surely teach the Government the lesson that complete deregulation of the Labour market encourages short-termism and creates insecurity."

Mr Byers accused the German car-maker yesterday of betraying Britain and demanding that the company compensate the people of the Midlands who will lose their jobs.

"There must be a moral obligation on BMW to make a contribution towards the economic regeneration of the Midlands and I will be raising that this week," said Mr Byers.

Meanwhile, there were fresh fears for jobs at Ford's plant in Dagenham, east London, where 4,000 are employed on Ford Fiesta production.

The company has told Mr Byers it is reviewing its plans because of over-production of cars in Europe, but denied reports it had decided to shut the plant.

As part of a campaign to defend his handling of the Rover sale, Mr Byers told The Independent he had been assured by Werner Sämann, the chairman of Rover, that despite losses of £2m a day, the BMW strategy did not involve breaking up the company. On Friday, Mr Sämann apologised to Mr Byers for concealing the truth from him because it was market-sensitive.