Rover crisis: 'I think that the management feathered their own nests'

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The Independent Online

Roger Page and his wife Sally remember Longbridge at its peak. He has run the family newsagent, Newspages, a few hundred yards away from the plant for more than 40 years and remembers when it employed 40,000.

In the 1960s, he needed 12 staff to handle the surges of workers coming from their shift. Now, aged 66, he and his wife employ two part-timers.

"The decline over the years has been gradual but nevertheless it has been continuous," he said. "Over the years, we knew generations of Rover workers. It's very sad. We've been with the Rover workers all our working lives. But we were coming in this morning and it was really dead. My wife and I were doing our papers, and there were no customers.''

For Mr Page and many other local people, the probable collapse of MG Rover has had an inevitability about it. His near neighbour, Harry James, a second-hand car dealer with nearly 40 years' experience in the business, was cutting in his criticisms. As the owner of Longbridge Car Sales, his forecourt, jammed with cheap second-hand vehicles, borders the derelict gearbox assembly buildings closed down by BMW in the late 90s. "They should have gone 20 years ago because it has just been shored up by bad management. The job hasn't been done right," he said.

"The engineering was terrible, as were the designs."

Sitting in the cavernous lounge of the workers' Austin Social Club, Adrian Ross, a senior union official at the plant, described the news as devastating. "We were so confident of reaching an agreement with SAIC," he said. Local businesses are now bracing themselves for the final closure of the complex which still dominates the village of Longbridge.

One former worker, who asked not to be named, is still the proud owner of a Rover 400. He said: "As far as I'm concerned, these are good cars."

A former weld controller, he blames MG Rover's management for the company's crisis: "I think that the management feathered their own nests."

Yesterday lunchtime, a few workers on the weekend skeleton shift dribbled out of the main plant. Most of the workers refused to discuss the company's plight.

Back at the social club, the union official insists that the company can still survive now it is in administration. The appointment of PriceWaterhouseCooper to take over the company could mean that MG Rover's potentially crippling redundancy liabilities will no longer be an issue for the Chinese.