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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 April, 2005, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
Blair holds out hope for MG Rover
Workers at Longbridge
The future for Longbridge and its workers has looked bleak
Tony Blair has promised to do "whatever we can" to protect the jobs of workers at the threatened car maker, MG Rover.

Mr Blair said he and Chancellor Gordon Brown had been in touch with the Chinese government in an attempt to salvage a deal.

Speaking after an emergency meeting in Birmingham, Mr Blair and Mr Brown vowed support for the workforce.

The Tories say government red tape has hit UK manufacturing, while the Lib Dems accuse Labour of acting too late.

Mr Blair said: "We will do whatever we can possibly do to safeguard the livelihoods and jobs of the people here."

The Longbridge-based car maker will soon enter administration after rescue talks with China's Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp (SAIC) collapsed.

'Opportunity'

Although this deal could not be put back on track, Mr Blair said that the government would "roll its sleeves up" and look for an alternative way of maintaining production and protecting as many jobs as possible.

"It is possible still that there may be the opportunity of doing something with the Chinese company, although not the original prospect that was there a few weeks ago," said Mr Blair.

Longbridge and the whole of the West Midlands are becoming ghost towns
Tony Murphy, Amicus union

Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of the TGWU, rejected suggestions that Mr Blair might have held out the possibility of a deal because of the approaching general election.

"That would be a cynical view.

"We've had nothing but support from the government over the last two to three years," he told the BBC Newsnight programme.

"They are on the side of Longbridge workers and we need their help."

The government has announced a 40m support package for suppliers to the industry.

The Birmingham Chamber of Commerce is part of the Rover taskforce, which meets for the first time on Monday.

We're very lucky that in the last four or five years businesses have already diversified away from Rover
Gerry Blackett
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce

Its policy director, Jerry Blackett, told BBC Radio 5 that in recent years businesses had already diversified away from Rover so there would not be "any sort of meltdown in the supply chain".

The job market was good in the West Midlands with "quite a skills shortage", he said.

"Rover have trained their people well - they're qualified, they're experienced and I am very confident that these people will find jobs."

MG Rover's board of directors met accountants Price Waterhouse Coopers on Friday. The directors are now taking steps to appoint administrators from PWC for MG Rover Group and Power Train.

The company's 6,000 workers have been told to turn up for work on Monday.

'Staggering incompetence'

The meeting in Birmingham on Friday followed news that Mr Blair spent 25 minutes on Wednesday evening talking to the Chinese prime minister in a bid to rescue the proposed partnership between MG Rover and SAIC.

Earlier, Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt, who visited the plant, announced the 40m support package for car part suppliers.

This was "to give them the time and support that they need to adjust, to find new customers, to work with our business advisors and to ensure there is a future for their very skilled and capable people as well," she said.

Gordon Brown (left) and Tony Blair arrive for talks in Birmingham
Gordon Brown and Tony Blair attended talks in Birmingham

Tory MP Julie Kirkbride, whose Bromsgrove seat is the area where many Longbridge workers live, accused Mrs Hewitt of "staggering incompetence" in announcing that Rover was going into receivership before its board had made a decision.

Labour chair of the Commons trade committee, Martin O'Neill, said: "It's a tragedy for the people involved. Every time somebody looks closely at MG Rover's prospects they step back from it."

Shadow industry secretary Stephen O'Brien said it was a "very deep and bitter tragedy" for all the workers at Longbridge.

Conservative Party co-chairman Liam Fox told BBC News that the increased regulatory burden placed on companies by Tony Blair was affecting manufacturing in general.

'Engineering stalwart'

Lib Dem Malcolm Bruce said he believed the government should have put in a system of corporate governance five years ago that would have allowed MG Rover to find an investment partner.

A Green Party spokeswoman said the potential loss of jobs was "an indictment of the global free trade system, under which a state prioritises the free movement of capital above the welfare and livelihoods of its citizens".

Roger Knapman, UK Independence Party leader, said the Longbridge workers were "victims of EU legislation".

Tony Murphy, Amicus national officer for the automotive industry, said: "Yet again I'm having to write an obituary for another stalwart of the British engineering and manufacturing industry.

"Longbridge and the whole of the West Midlands are becoming ghost towns."





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