Byers in crisis talks on Rover's future

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SENIOR CABINET ministers and anxious union leaders last night appealed to the new head of BMW not to abandon the 14,000 workers at Rover's Longbridge plant, Britain's biggest car factory.

Following the boardroom drama in which the conglomerate's chairman, Bernd Pischetsrieder, the greatest supporter of keeping Longbridge open, resigned, Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary, spoke to his replacement, Professor Joachim Milberg, yesterday. As a result, there is now speculation that the German company will build a new car at the plant.

Mr Byers stressed the importance the Government attached to Rover and Longbridge, near Birmingham, backed by an offer of financial assistance. Up to 50,000 jobs would be affected if the giant factory shut.

A spokesman for Mr Byers said: "He was pleased to learn that BMW's review of investment plans for a medium-sized car is continuing and that it is looking closely at Longbridge as a possible location."

Union leaders are also pressing for an urgent meeting with the new chairman. Roger Lyons, general secretary of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union, said it was essential that the "sword of Damocles" be removed after damaging speculation about the future of Longbridge. Union leaders say that they are cautiously optimistic about Professor Milberg's appointment. They hope he will honour past BMW promises to invest in Rover.

In a letter to Professor Milberg, Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said: "The challenge now is to restore stability and confidence in the company and its products."