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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May, 2005, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
Business bankruptcies
MG Rover Longbridge plant
BMW sold Rover to the "Phoenix Four" businessmen in May 2000
As the Department of Trade and Industry prepares to investigate the collapse of carmaker MG Rover, File On 4 examines the laws to protect workers and shareholders when businesses go bust.

The DTI's investigation follows the analysis of the Rover group's accounts for the year up to 2003 by a watchdog body, the Financial Reporting Council. It said the report raised "a number of questions".

Since Rover's demise, concern has centred on how over 5,000 workers could

lose their jobs while directors paid themselves a reported 40m in pension, pay and other benefits.

Martin O'Neill, the former chairman of a DTI select committee to assess how Rover was being run, tells File On 4 that in its final months its structure was so complex that it made it difficult to establish the full picture.

"There were bits of it (the company) which didn't really relate to other bits.....and there were two views about that, one was that they (management) had dealt with it in a rational manner, identifying and isolating assets.

"Others had said they were enabling themselves to have it as an exit strategy which would have resulted in them walking away from car assembly and manufacturing but at the same time having one or two still lucrative options elsewhere."

The programme looks at other company failures which have left a trail of debt and job losses.

It raises questions about the way businesses are able to shift the balance of risk away from those who own and run them, onto those who supply and invest in them.

It hears from experts who say the law allows accountants to re-value assets to keep an unprofitable business trading for too long. Credit can be stretched beyond reasonable limits, putting many other businesses under unnecessary stress.

Accountant Richard Murphy says the law must be changed to ensure more transparency in the auditing system while companies are still trading, rather than after they have collapsed.

"It's a problem we've turned our backs on so far. The current system leaves you knowing even less about what's going on inside a group.

"The UK must act to protect those on the outside who are left vulnerable."

File On 4: BBC Radio 4, Tuesday 31 May, 2005 at 2000 BST, and repeated on Sunday 5 June, 2005 at 1700 BST.

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