Archive : BL submits £400m aid plea to Government as vote on strike looms

By Peter Hill Industrial Editor

Requests for further substantial Government financial aid were submitted to Sir Keith Joseph the Secretary of State for Industry, by BL yesterday as shop stewards organized mass meetings later this week to vote on recommendations for strike action over the company’s 6.8 per cent “final offer” to its 73,000 manual workers. The additional cash, being sought by BL, likely to be more than £400m, forms a key element of the company’s corporate plan which was formally submitted to the Industry Department yesterday and to the National Enterprise Board.

Ministers, embroiled in arguments over public spending cuts, face difficulties against the background of the deepening recession which has affected BL although Sir Michael Edwardes the BL chairman, will point to the additional cash already extended to British Steel and the expectation of further aid for British Shipbuilders.

But the BL chairman is under no illusion that the Government will take a tough line if strike action, which would disrupt the recently launched Mini Metro, came after the mass meetings. Earlier this month he admitted that the Goverment, would be entitled: to withhold funds if the company failed to maintain stable industrial relations or failed with the Mini Metro. BL, which lost £155m in the: first six months of the current financial year, has received £75m more than the £1000m originally allocated under the rescue plan drawn up in 1975 by the NEB.

At the end of last year the Government approved funding totalling £430m, with about £130m of that sum earmarked for the company’s needs next year. BL needs the extra cash not only for its business plan next year, but also more importantly for the LC10 middle-range model, regarded as being of even greater significance to BL’s future than the Mini Metro, which is due to be in production in 1982-83. Against the background of the industry’s difficulties and the growing pressures on the Government to ease the cash limits of other nationalized industries, ministers may urge the company to explore the possibility of raising at least some of the extra finance from private sources.

Mini Metro threat: Mass meetings will be held in BL car plants throughout the country on Thursday to vote on the shop stewards’ recommendation for strike action over the 6.8 per cent offer. The unions are demanding 20 per cent (Clifford Webb writes). With extensive short-time in force in most plants, the prime target for disruption is production of the all-important Mini Metro at Longbridge.

Mr Jack Adams, who replaced the dismissed Mr Derek Robinson as convener there, is one of the most outspoken advocates of a strike. More than 200 senior shop stewards representing most plants met in Coventry yesterday to consider a recommendation from the union side of BL Cars’ joint negotiating committee that shop floor ” action ” should be taken to force a more realistic offer from the company. Mr Geoffrey Armstrong, BL Cars’ employees relations director, told union negotiators 10 days ago:

“The 6.8 per cent offer is the company’s final offer and I mean final. There is nothing more to come “.

The company had increased its original offer of 6.1 per cent. Last night a BL spokesman said: “We believe that employees still take a balanced view and that responsible attitudes will prevail”.

Keith Adams

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