Byers in the clear over Rover sell off

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A report by MPs investigating the troubled car maker Rover was being published today, delivering the verdict of the powerful cross-party committee on whether the Government could have done more to avert the crisis.

Members of the Trade and Industry Select Committee have quizzed Trade Secretary Stephen Byers as well as union and Rover officials in recent weeks, as part of the investigation into the controversial sale of the group.

The report is expected to criticise the Department of Trade and Industry for making mistakes, while clearing Mr Byers of keeping Rover workers in the dark about BMW's plans to sell its Longbridge site or of knowing in advance the German car giant's decision.

The committee is also expected to accept Mr Byers' account of his discussions with BMW by criticising the firm for being less than open with the British government.

Meanwhile, the venture capital firm which plans to buy the bulk of the Rover group indicated today that it will make thousands of workers redundant in one fell swoop.

Alchemy Partners said it believed a decisive move would be kinder for the workers, sparing them prolonged uncertainty about their fate.

Alchemy managing partner Jon Moulton told The Sun newspaper: "We do not think it is fair to the workers to have lots of smaller redundancies because that only adds to the uncertainty."

Although the company did not reveal how many jobs would go, the newspaper said it was believed that only 3,000 of the 8,000-plus staff at Rover's Longbridge plant would retain their jobs.

Mr Moulton expects to tie up the deal with BMW by the end of April, after which Alchemy would have to give 90 days' notice of redundancies to the workers.

Transport and General Workers Union chief negotiator Tony Woodley, who has accused BMW of reneging on its responsibilities to Rover workers, is seeking a meeting with BMW chairman Professor Joachim Milberg over the expected redundancies as well as the future of the Rover pension fund.

Roger Lyons, general secretary of the Manufacturing Science and Finance union was today visiting Rover's Gaydon plant in Warwickshire to address workers facing an uncertain future.

The union said that since BMW announced the sale of Rover, the future of Gaydon, where Rover and Land Rover models are designed and tested, had been "cloaked in secrecy".

The Gaydon workers, along with other Rover staff, received a letter this week saying they would have to choose or be allocated to a business unit prior to the sale.

"After years of dedicated service, the staff at Gaydon deserve better than this unseemly scramble for the scraps that the company is forcing upon them," said Mr Lyons.

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