Archive : Contempt fuels Park Royal revolution

By Nick Davies

When the body shop at British Leyland’s Park Royal works ran out of London bus floors last week they found a half-built Manchester bus, tore out the floorboards, built them into the London model and sent it down the line. That is a revoloution.
Two weeks ago before Sir Michael Edwardes announced Park Royal’s closure, they would have relished the delay as yet another example of bad management and grimly waited for the right parts to come through.

Two things have changed all that. One is the hefty severance pay the workers have been promised on condition that they produce five buses a week until the plant closes in June. The other is a revived and open contempt for Leyland management. As the employees see it, they have nine months to rub Leyland’s nose in Park Royal’s failure. By doubling production they will prove to themselves at least, that Park Royal could have worked if Leyland had not interfered.

One coach builder, Mr Ralph Emerson said last week: ‘British Leyland destroys every thing they touch. There are people in gaol for doing less than they have done. Everybody’s earnings have dropped since they took over.’

When Mr Emerson leaves next year, he says, he will throw up his 12 years experience in the industry. ‘I have had it with them,’ he said.

‘I’ll go and sweep floors at the airport. I’ll probably earn more that way.’ At the root of the contempt is a mythical character called Hurry-up Harry. He is the archetypal Leyland career man who comes down from the Midlands with his well researched theories and his expertise and runs into distrust from the shop floor every time he opens his mouth.

‘All our management are British Leyland whizz-kids,’ said Mr Emerson.

‘They call them expediters, God knows what. They make up the titles as they go along. There are that many of them we have to make two buses a week to pay for them.’

The workers complain that since Leyland took over at Park Royal the works has become top heavy with administrators. They say only 250 of 630 employees are directly involved in production and a quarter of them are apprentices. Leyland disputes the figure, saying that 360 workers are directly involved in production.

Hurry-up Harry suffers the the additional burden of having to consult with headquarters on many production decisions, which causes delay. The most contentious decision was to farm out the production of components originall y made at the works. Parts are slow to arrive and often badly made. That has meant falling wages under the pay agreement, which is tied to the number of buses being completed each week.

Mr John Hope, a coach builder who has been at the works for 22 years, said: ‘I could do five jobs a week, but only if two buses go out of that gate, thats all I’m paid for. It’s cock-eyed.’

The Titan bus, which takes up most of the work at Park Royal, has suffered from design faults. Every Titan produced has to go up to Nottingham to have the roof panels replaced because the Park Royal panels are the wrong shape.

The same contempt fuelling production is also fermenting one last dispute. Mr Hope said: ‘There is no guarantee we will get our severance pay if all the Titan’s aren’t produced by June. We can still fall over if the material isn’t there to do the job. But the working man isn’t as dumb as they think. If we see we’re not going to get the severance money we shall be in there demanding it.’

Leyland says it is sure the parts will come through and if things go wrong it will not be the company’s fault. A spokeman said: ‘All along the problem has been that without co-operation and understanding from the workforce snags arise because people refuse to be flexible.’

None of the workers seem to have any firm idea about how to spend the severance pay. Mr Hope, who stands to collect about £7,000, said: ‘I’ve never had money in my life. I might give it to the wife and children, I don’t know.’

‘But one thing is certain,’ said Mr Emerson. ‘We won’t be buying British Leyland shares with it.’

Keith Adams

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