Page last updated at 15:20 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 16:20 UK

Ex-workers rue the Phoenix legacy

MG Rover logos at former dealership
The firm lost 611m in the first four years since the Phoenix takeover

The Phoenix Four were hailed as heroes in 2000 when Phoenix Venture Holdings bought Rover for £10 from BMW and pledged to a nervous workforce that the company would be back in profit within two years.

But the firm, now called MG Rover, made losses of more than £600m in its first four years.

In 2005 administrators were called in after alliances with a Chinese group and later Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corporation fell apart.

But on the day that a £16m government report criticises the £42m in pensions and payouts received by executives John Towers, Nick Stephenson, Peter Beale and John Edwards plus chief executive Kevin Howe, their legacy, in the eyes of former workers, is one of incompetence and greed.

"It took four years and £16m to tell us something that we already knew - what a waste of money that was," former Longbridge worker Stephen Gregory told BBC News.

"Again, the report says they have not committed any crime. I think the only crime they actually did do is incompetence."

One Longbridge resident described what happened to the car maker as "disgusting"

He is also critical of the government's role and the high cost of its inquiry.

"They (the Phoenix group) came with good intentions, but what annoys me about the report is the government involvement," he added.

"They seem to be blameless in it and yet the could have got involved more."

A spokesman for the Phoenix group described the report as a "witchhunt" and a "whitewash for the government".

The Government has confirmed it has started proceedings against the former owners to prevent them holding company office again.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has already said there will be no criminal investigation into the collapse.

Labour MP Richard Burden - whose Northfield constituency includes the Rover plant - said he criticised the group about five years ago for paying themselves such large amounts of money.

'Very rich'

But he said he was angry at suggestions in the report that he and other MPs investigating the collapse of the firm were given "inaccurate and misleading information" by one of the company's executives.

Professor Carl Chinn who has campaigned on behalf of former Rover workers and written a book about the crisis said a long-term strategy to safeguard jobs was needed when the initial four Phoenix directors took over.

"Five men have made themselves very rich while large numbers of workers - thousands - have lost their jobs," he said.

Stephen Gregory, Maurice Minor and Sid Blenkiron
Stephen Gregory, Maurice Minor and Sid Blenkiron worked at the factory

"But on top of that, I think one of the things that has come out is we're very good in this country doing long-term reports, spending lots of money on a report.

"What about spending money on manufacturing? What about spending money on investment?

"That is what should have happened in 2000.

"There should have been a long-term strategy put in place by politicians of all kinds to invest in long term jobs.

"Many of the workers are in low-paid, insecure, temporary jobs. They were in long-term, well-paid good jobs."

He also criticised the government's "lack of belief in manufacturing in the UK" but accepted MG Rover was clearly struggling before the Phoenix group stepped in.

"We all knew at the time in 2000, that there was a need for a big partner to come in..we knew there had to be massive investment to develop a new car.

It's destroyed an area. It's like taking Cadbury out of Bournville - it wouldn't be the same would it?
Former Rover worker Andy Cartwright

"That's when, in my opinion, the politicians of all shades should have got together, sat down with the board and said: 'How can we work out a sustainable future for this plant?'

"We wanted long-term jobs, not a short-term failure."

The detrimental effect the collapse has had on the local area around the once bustling plant in south Birmingham and on the supply chain can still be felt four years later, ex-workers claim.

More than 6,000 people worked at the site but the fallout goes much further, Professor Chinn said.

"There are a lot of lives that have been badly affected by the failure of MG Rover and people who are still angry, dismayed - like me - and disgusted that we are not investing in jobs," he said.

One former worker, Andy Cartwright, who worked at Rover for 16 years said the history and tradition that surrounded the Rover brand was synonymous with Birmingham.

"It's destroyed an area," he said.

"It's like taking Cadbury out of Bournville - it wouldn't be the same would it?"



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