Tories attack 'failure to act' over Rover

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The Independent Online

The Tories accused Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, of negligence and incompetence over the Rover crisis.

Angela Browning, shadow trade and industry secretary, said he knew in December that Rover was in jeopardy but failed to act. "It has been your incompetence that has added to the turmoil this company finds itself in today."

Mr Byers again denied knowing about the sale of the Longbridge plant before last month. After BMW's decision to break up Rover, he said, the main objective now was to manage the changes in a way that minimised job losses.

Mr Byers told Mrs Browning: "It's time you stopped playing party politics and put the interests of Rover workers first."

Julie Kirkbride, Tory MP for Bromsgrove, said she represented 1,500 Longbridge workers unimpressed by the "headless chicken act" of Labour MPs determined to blame BMW for the problems.

She said she blamed the Government for its economic management and Mr Byers' failure to get an EU loan in time for investment to be approved.

Ms Kirkbride insisted volume car making at Longbridge depended on the R30 model and she accused Mr Byers of being "naive or ignorant" if he had not realised this.

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield), a former Tory minister and a member of the Rover taskforce, said "great credit" should be given to staff at Longbridge who had worked hard to reverse the plant's previous reputation.

He pressed Mr Byers: "Will you confirm that, whatever happens, they will provide an invaluable skilled resource in the West Midlands itself?" Sir Norman asked if any assurance had been given by BMW that production at Longbridge would continue until the sale of the company was completed.