Birmingham City Council has stepped into the battle over the future of Rover’s threatened Longbridge plant with offers of £1m to improve supplier productivity and fast-track planning for the development of the site.
Rover’s parent group BMW, which underwent a boardroom revolution earlier this month, is considering the fate of Longbridge. Job losses totalling 2,500 have been agreed and Rover, set a target of breaking even by 2000, has started to shift its supply chain out of the country, threatening more UK jobs.
The £1m Birmingham City Council is offering depends on a medium-sized car being built at the Longbridge plant. The funds are to be targeted at ways of securing employment, including training and supplier best practice programmes like the SMMT Industry Forum’s Accelerate.
Councillor Gerard Coyne, who is leading a council taskforce, said: ‘Compared to Rover’s losses, £1m may seem like a drop in the ocean. ‘But it is a signal to national and European governments that we are willing to stick with this and put our money into it. Then, hopefully, other funds will follow.’
Meanwhile, the council has highlighted the availability of neighbouring land to expand the Longbridge site. The Great Park, a former health authority site, has 8.7ha of land earmarked for industrial development. This could be used to build a supplier park for Longbridge, Coyne suggested.
But suppliers such as Wilco, which is just 20 minutes away from the Rover site, believe the benefits of moving would be marginal. Wilco sales manager Martin Lane said: ‘Moving next door to Longbridge, with its uncertain future, could put a nail in your own coffin.’
The council also plans to speed up the planning process for any redevelopment. ‘We’re not going to neglect our statutory duties,’ Coyne said. ‘But we can set up a dedicated team to talk to Rover. This will ensure that planning requirements are met as the plans are written. We’ve already done this for the new Mini.’
A Rover spokeswoman said the company has yet to be approached by the council.
BMW’s 1998 annual results are due to published at the end of March, when a decision on the future of Longbridge is likely.