Top Rover engineer defends Longbridge

Rover’s design and engineering director has spoken out in defence of the company and its workforce, ahead of a crucial board meeting of parent company BMW to decide the fate of Rover’s Longbridge plant. Hope was rising that a package of Government aid, expected to be on the table at yesterday’s meeting, would lead to […]

Rover’s design and engineering director has spoken out in defence of the company and its workforce, ahead of a crucial board meeting of parent company BMW to decide the fate of Rover’s Longbridge plant.

Hope was rising that a package of Government aid, expected to be on the table at yesterday’s meeting, would lead to a reprieve for Rover’s biggest factory.

The future of Longbridge, which has been criticised for low productivity, depends on BMW deciding to build a replacement for the Rover 200/400 series there.

In an interview with The Engineer, Rover design and engineering director Nick Stephenson attacked media reports which ‘wrongly singled out the Longbridge workforce and questioned their commitment’.

While admitting that Rover faces ‘significant productivity challenges’, he said if a factory is running at less than optimum capacity, ‘then the best workforce in the world are not going to be able to demonstrate their productivity.’

In addition to government aid, reportedly worth around £200m, Birmingham City Council this week offered to waive Longbridge’s £4m rates bill for three years, on top of £1m it has already pledged for training initiatives, if BMW invests.

A study by Birmingham Economic Information Centre estimates that closing Longbridge, with the direct loss of 12,000 jobs, would lead to over 10,000 more indirect job losses. It would hit GDP by £0.5bn a year, while the cost in lost taxes and extra benefits would be £364m in 1999 alone.

It is hoped the aid package will persuade BMW to spend up to £1.7bn rebuilding Longbridge. It has already invested in new production facilities for the Land Rover Freelander at Solihull and rebuilt Rover’s Oxford (formerly Cowley) plant for the new 75.

Speaking at the Geneva Motor Show last week, chairman Joachim Milberg said BMW had invested more than DM7bn (£2.4bn) in Rover since 1994, adding: ‘The emphasis here is on the word invested.’

* Interview, page 12