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The BBC's Greg Wood
"Prayers were said for those whose jobs are on the line"
 real 28k

Sunday, 19 March, 2000, 19:28 GMT
Inquiry into Rover sale
transporter lorry
Workers' pay will be cut as the shifts are shortened
An investigation into the Rover sell-off has been announced by an influential committee of MPs.

Chairman of the House of Commons trade and industry select committee, Martin O'Neill, told BBC Radio 4 the inquiry would begin within two weeks.

It would seek to establish a firm record of the events surrounding the sale by German car firm BMW, he said.

Stephen Byers: BMW gave no hint of break up
It would also explore what options there were for finding an alternative buyer for Rover, look at the government's role in the affair and ask whether it could have done more.

Mr O'Neill said he did not think Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers was to blame over the sale, adding: "If people set out to act in a clandestine fashion...I don't really know what he is expected to do."

The row over the sale deepened on Sunday as the government publicly accused BMW of lying over the deal.

Mr Byers says he met BMW director Werner Saemann on 10 March and was told there were no plans to sell Rover.

'No indication of sell-off'

"Six days before they announced they were to break up Rover there was not even a hint that was in their minds," Mr Byers told Sky News.

He added: "Indeed, they went through their strategy to deal with the mounting losses of 2m a day and nowhere in that was there an indication that the break up of Rover and the disposal of Longbridge was even in their thinking."

After the sell-off plans were confirmed, BMW is said to have apologised to Mr Byers, explaining it could not have told him the truth because it was commercially sensitive.

Rover sell-off
BMW keeps Cowley plant, builds new Mini
Alchemy buys Longbridge, will build "MG sports saloons", Rover 25, 45, 75, old Mini
Rover rebranded as MG
Land Rover sold to Ford
But Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said the government should take some of the blame for Rover's problems because of its unwillingness to commit to the euro.

He told Breakfast with Frost: "The government have to bear their share of the responsibility and stop trying to blame everybody else."

Mr Byers has said he will seek compensation from the firm to help the West Midlands cope with the sale of Longbridge.

He has demanded a meeting with BMW, potential buyers Alchemy and the Ford car firm, which is buying Land Rover as part of the deal.

Shifts scaled down

The task force set up to help the area cope with the loss is expected to come under pressure in the coming days to step up its work.

It will also have to decide how to channel its 150m budget towards the most appropriate recipients.

Shifts at Rover's Longbridge plant will be scaled down on Monday, as the reality of BMW's decision to sell it off hits home.

Workers are expected to each lose about 80 a month from their pay packets.

The shifts may be scaled down further as the future of the Birmingham plant unfolds.

Many of the 8,500 staff are expected to lose their jobs if the sale to venture capitalists Alchemy goes through.

Unions fears the figure could be as high as 6,000, and they are expressing concern about the levels of redundancy pay the staff will receive.

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See also:

19 Mar 00 | Business
Rover unions turn on government
19 Mar 00 | Business
Drivers urged to buy British
17 Mar 00 | Business
Blair fury over BMW
17 Mar 00 | Business Basics
What do venture capitalists do?
17 Mar 00 | Business
BMW blames sterling and sales
17 Mar 00 | Business
Ford pays 1.8bn for Land Rover
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