Rover managers 'took bribes' to approve voluntary redundancies

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The Independent Online

The Rover car company was embroiled in bribery allegations last night after two supervisors were suspended over claims that they demanded up to £2,500 to approve staff redundancy applications.

The Rover car company was embroiled in bribery allegations last night after two supervisors were suspended over claims that they demanded up to £2,500 to approve staff redundancy applications.

The men were sent home on full pay last Thursday. A worker at the Longbridge plant, near Birmingham, has said he was asked for 10 per cent of any lump sum if he wanted to be considered for voluntary redundancy. At least one other senior manager has also been removed from the paint shop at the centre of the claims, pending the results of an internal inquiry expected by the weekend.

Rover insisted the claims were being dealt with as an "internal company matter". But a spokeswoman for West Midlands Police said: "Allegations of this nature could be considered criminal and would warrant a police inquiry. If the company finds grounds for suspicion, we would expect to be called in."

The potential scandal centres on the "extremely generous" voluntary redundancy scheme put forward by the Phoenix consortium when it bought Rover from BMW in May.

John Towers, the former Rover boss who heads Phoenix, said the company needed to reduce Longbridge's 7,000-strong work force by 1,000 by the end of this year to remain viable.

The redundancy package is understood to offer payouts of £25,000 on average, plus associated pension and health benefits, with higher payments for those with 20 years' service. Workers apply for the scheme by obtaining a signature from their senior manager.

One paint shop worker is said to have recorded a conversation with one of his supervisors about his redundancy application after a tip-off from a colleague. A union source said: "Staff are initially told they are too valuable and cannot take the package. Then they are approached on the quiet and told they can go, in return for a 10 per cent cut.

"They are also being told the money has to be paid up front so they can be put forward. Those who can't afford it are told to borrow. It is so outrageous it beggars belief."

What is unclear is whether the alleged bribery activity has stopped people applying for the scheme or how many of those who have already retired have had to part with funds. About 400 Rover staff have taken up the agreed "enhanced" redundancy package.

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