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Tuesday, 2 May, 2000, 17:46 GMT 18:46 UK
In the shadow of Longbridge
Clarke family on a protest march over Rover sell-off
Families like the Clarkes are caught in the crossfire at Rover
By the BBC's Bob Jefford

The last six weeks have been an agonising wait for tens of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on the future of Rover.

But it is not just individuals who wait on every twist and turn. Whole families have been living anxious lives since BMW's shock sale announcement.

The Clarke family is typical. Joe Clarke has worked at Longbridge for 12 years, on the engine production line, and for the last two years as a senior shop steward. His wage supports his wife Dawn, their six year old daughter Amy, and a home in a pleasant part of Birmingham.

Joe Clarke pickets at Longbridge
Joe Clarke is struggling to keep his and workmates' jobs
"This is quite a decent area we live in and Amy is in a decent school. If my job goes we will have to look at selling the house, moving to another area. That's the uncertainty that's hanging over us at the moment. We're in a very bleak situation," Joe said.

Knife edge

Dawn says she is living on a knife-edge: "It's just frightening. Every time the phone rings I jump out of my skin just in case its Joe with the bad news."

Longbridge is such a major employer in and around south Birmingham many members of families depend on it. Joe's mother, brother-in-law and father-in-law work for component makers who supply Longbridge. Two of his uncles have retired after a total of 70 years service at the historic factory.

"The whole family, the whole West Midlands community would be affected in some way if Longbridge was to close," Joe said.

Nobody really knows how many tens of thousands of jobs depend on Longbridge, but they stretch far beyond the factory gates and the suppliers. There are cleaners, cinemas, financial service for example - even the local chippy.

Chips are down

George Evangelou had sold his fish and chip shop, which is a stone's throw from K gate. But that was until the BMW announcement, which threatened the future of the surrounding area as well as the factory.

George Evangelou in his Longbridge chip shop
George Evangelou's chip shop sale is on the rocks
"We were ready to sign the contracts to get rid of it when we heard the news from BMW. That just put the kybosh on it straight away. Now obviously the value of the business is negligible because there's no-one going to want to invest in the area any more," George said.

But there may now be new hope all round. The Phoenix Consortium, a Midlands organisation lead by former Rover chief executive John Towers, seems to be making progress in its bid to maintain volume car making at Longbridge.

Joe Clarke has been involved in union discussions with BMW and Phoenix. "We're faced with plant closure within a month which is no good for anybody, or the Towers Consortium coming in.

"They've made it very clear that the worst case is 3,000 job cuts, the best is 1,000. But considering that sales at the moment are 9% of the market, if we can build on that we've got a chance," he said.

And Dawn added, "My hope is that Joe continues working for Rover if John Towers gets it, and we get a British car back. My worst fears are still the day Joe rings me to say he hasn't got a job."

Joe, Dawn and Amy, and the thousands of other families that depend on Longbridge and Rover should know within a month if their best hopes or worst fears are to come true.

Phoenix or Bust, a BBC Midlands Report Special, will be shown in the Midlands region tonight at 1930 BST on BBC TWO.

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See also:

02 May 00 | Business
Alchemy considers fresh Rover bid
01 May 00 | Business
Blair's pledge to Rover workers
20 Mar 00 | Business
Unions vote to block Rover sale
30 Apr 00 | Business
Phoenix 'needs government cash'
26 Apr 00 | Business
Rover: 24,000 jobs at risk
01 Apr 00 | UK
Thousands rally for Rover
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