View from City Road: The ugly tale at Lancer Boss

Click to follow
The Independent Online
With Jungheinrich's purchase of Lancer Boss, what became a story of double dealing and the pursuit of naked self-interest on a grand scale is brought to its final disreputable conclusion. About the best that can be said for the outcome is that at least 700 jobs are secured, and the British factory will be reintegrated with its sister plant in Germany. The banks, for their part, should get their money back.

In all other respects it is an ugly story, and one that need not have happened. The Bowman-Shaws, who built Lancer Boss from nothing, will lose almost everything - even their collection of vintage tractors. They made mistakes, but no more than many entrepreneurs, and it is certain that, with a little more goodwill, a solution that would have given them a stake in a stronger group could have been found. It is hard to avoid the view that they fell victim to a German stitch-up.

The exact sequence of events that pushed first Lancer's German subsidiary, Steinbock Boss, then the Lancer Boss parent, into receivership is disputed. If, as Sir Neville Bowman- Shaw claims, he was strong-armed into selling Steinbock Boss to Jungheinrich, its chief European competitor, for a song, there must be an investigation, preferably by Brussels.

The German industrial system may be more effective than the British one, but if the Germans really do support the free market principles of the EU, they will have to shed some of their cosier habits.

The British have lessons to learn too. Like Lancer Boss, Jungheinrich started from nothing, but grew to become eight times bigger - a world leader that had the muscle to survive. The Germans criticise the Bowman- Shaws for driving Bentleys while Dr Jungheinrich drove a Beetle.

No doubt they have a point, but the real reasons Lancer Boss remained so small are the same as those that have beset the UK manufacturing base for 30 years or more - an unstable economy, vacillating policy, poor training and so on and so forth . . . These are the problems which this month's White Paper on competitiveness plans to address. The Lancer Boss story should be stapled in as a cautionary tale.