Sale of Rover'could cost up to 45,000 jobs'

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The Independent Online

Up to 45,000 motor industry jobs are likely to go in the West Midlands because of BMW's break-up and sale of Rover, unions and component suppliers said yesterday.

The warning came as Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, prepared to meet the head of BMW in Munich this morning and Alchemy Partners, which is taking over the Longbridge plant in Birmingham, began naming its top management team.

Chris Woodwark, a motor industry executive with 36 years' experience, is today expected to be appointed chief executive of the MG Car Company, the company being set up by Alchemy to run Longbridge. Mr Woodwark, a former chief executive of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, is currently an adviser to the Alchemy board.

The purpose of Mr Byers' meeting this morning with the BMW chairman, Professor Joachim Milberg, is to persuade the German carmaker to join the government-led initiative to regenerate the area and salvage jobs. According to internal company plans leaked to the MSF union, the break-up of Rover will lead to 9,500 job losses, including at least 3,500 jobs at the Longbridge car plant.

There will be a further 1,500 job losses at Rover's Swindon pressings plant and 2,000 redundancies at its research and development centre in Gaydon, Warwickshire. Other job losses include 1,000 at Rover's Warwick headquarters and 500 at Cowley in Oxford which BMW has pledged to retain to build the new Mini and the Rover 75 under contract to Alchemy. Meanwhile, component firms estimated that a further 30,000 to 35,000 jobs could disappear among local parts suppliers to Rover. Speaking after a meeting in West Bromwich of 100 component firms employing 60,000 workers, Neil Marshall, director general of the Confederation of British Metalforming, said: "The outlook for many companies in this area is grim - in some cases two-thirds of their output is currently geared to Rover Group companies." Mr Marshall had grave doubts about whether Alchemy would ever produce a single new car at Longbridge, describing the news emerging from BMW and the venture capital group as "increasingly bleak".

In a bid to reassure the Longbridge workforce that it is serious about its plans to rename the business the MG Car Company and produce 50,000-100,000 sports saloons a year, Alchemy last night named two of its three top management. The chairman of MG Cars will be Brandon Gough, currently chairman of the banknote printer De la Rue and Yorkshire Water. Its finance director will be Graham Hallworth, who helped turn around another Alchemy buy-in, AG Stanley, which owns the Fads decorative chain.

Mr Byers will be accompanied at today's meeting by the head of the taskforce, Alex Stevenson. Mr Byers, who initially attacked BMW for lying to the Government and keeping ministers in the dark about its plans, said: "The meeting will be an opportunity to look forward and plan for the future. I hope that BMW will agree to work with the taskforce and help them achieve their objectives of economic regeneration and job creation."