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Friday, 28 April, 2000, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
Workers cheer Alchemy move
The Rover assembly line
Longbridge workers hope for good news on jobs
Workers at the giant Longbridge plant reacted with joy that Alchemy Partners had decided not to go ahead with their plan to buy Rover Cars.

That was despite the fact that the decision could result in the closure of the entire factory.

Unions and Trade Secretary Stephen Byers had opposed the Alchemy bid, which would have ended mass car production at Longbridge. Alchemy planned to focus operations on making sports cars under the MG badge.

The workforce is supporting the Phoenix consortium instead. The group, led by former Rover executive John Towers, claims it will be able to safeguard more jobs and keep Rover as a mass market car maker.

Shop steward Ian Robinson told BBC Radio: "Everybody here is over the moon.

"They're coming out with banners all along the Longbridge site. It's the news we have been waiting to hear and it will give the Phoenix bid more time to sort the deal out."

"We are fighting for jobs and Alchemy did not give us that option, so with Alchemy out of it at the moment the mood is ecstatic," said union official Carl Chinn at Longbridge.

Is closure Plan B?

Tony Woodley, Transport and General Workers Union official, said he believed an Alchemy deal could still be done within hours.

"Nothing would surprise me," he said.

The Department of Trade and Industry said it was still not in a position to comment.

Analysts said Friday's announcement could mean BMW planned simply to shut down all of Rover Cars operations - after a six-year unsuccessful struggle to make the carmaker profitable.

"This could mean one of two things; BMW has gone to plan B where BMW closes Rover itself. Or there is another deal they want to do," said John Lawson, analyst with Salomon Smith Barney.

Birmingham Northfield MP Richard Burden, whose constituency covers part of the Longbridge plant, urged BMW to begin serious negotiations with Phoenix.

"People in this area have been put through intolerable uncertainty and that needs to be laid to rest," he said.

But the MP urged caution, saying: "Everybody needs to exercise a degree of caution at this point - it is a very dramatic development, but we have seen throughout this saga that one thing has been said and then another thing has been done.

"The people who have been the casualties in all of this are the workers and their families, who have been kept in an absolutely appalling state of uncertainty - nobody should have to be put through that.

"We need to keep a clear head now and the message to BMW is 'Start negotiations with Phoenix' - not just in the interests of people here in the West Midlands, but I would say in the interests of their own shareholders.

"I can't imagine they have been very happy with the kind of chaotic scenes we have seen coming out of BMW in recent weeks."

Terry Reilly, 46, a Longbridge worker for 11 years, said: "It's absolutely superb news. We have always said Alchemy was bad news for this plant - they are asset strippers who intended to sell off the best bits and leave people out of work."

However, not all workers were happy. Sammy Singh, 18, said: "Our futures are still unclear. Alchemy had a long term strategy and whoever takes over we could be faced with the same problem in three months' time."

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See also:

28 Apr 00 | Business
BMW threat to close Rover Cars
28 Apr 00 | Business
Alchemy shies away from Rover risk
16 Mar 00 | Business
The Rover Group
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