Unions and Rover set for showdown

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The Independent Online

Unions at MG Rover are to meet senior directors of the car maker tonight for urgent talks over allegations that its parent company, Phoenix Venture Holdings, has asset-stripped the business.

The representatives of the 6,500-strong workforce at the Longbridge plant in Birmingham will express their anger over the financial restructuring of the company and a £13m payment into a trust set up for the benefit of the Phoenix directors and their families at a time when there is a £73m deficit in the company pension fund. They will also tackle MG Rover over executive pay.

The meeting at Longbridge will be with John Towers, who led the Phoenix consortium's buyout of Rover in May 2000. The union side will be led by Duncan Simpson, the national automotive officer for the engineering union Amicus, and his opposite number at the Transport and General Workers Union. An Amicus spokeswoman said MG Rover had "basically been asset-stripped", adding: "We want the company to explain itself and tell us what the implications are of what it has done."

Since buying Rover from BMW for a symbolic £10 three years ago, Phoenix has separated the loss-making car-making operations from its land and property assets. The four Phoenix directors have also taken the unusual step of acquiring MG Rover's car leasing division from BMW in a deal that separates the company's financing arm from car making.