Cowley factory sets pattern for Rover
A revolution in working practices by Rover workers at Cowley will be the price of survival for the giant Longbridge plant in Birmingham. That’s the simple message to the Midlands as the car giant announced it was to shed 2,400 jobs in Britain.
BMW, Rover’s owner, wants sweeping changes in the way the ageing Birming- ham plant operates. The company says Rover’s overall productivity is only two-thirds of its German counterparts and needs to cut costs by £150m every year for three years. But the Cowley plant, which is building the newly unveiled Rover 75 model, is being held up as the way forward. BMW has pumped in £400m to produce the new saloon, which goes on sale next March and secures the future of the Oxford site, which has the potential to build 250,000 cars a year. The launch of the car will create 1,000 jobs at Cowley and up to 5,000 more among suppliers.
The Rover 75 is just the first of a range of new models to be built at Cowley. Some reports suggest the new Mini, due to be launched in 2000, could come to Oxford if Longbridge closes. A crucial element in BMW agreeing to the massive investment at the Cowley factory – now renamed Rover Oxford – was the introduction of a comprehensive new flexible working agreement covering hours, overtime and holidays.
Rover Group deputy chairman Tony Rose said: “There has been quite outstanding co-operation from trade unions, employee representatives and associates to make this probably the best new car introduction yet achieved.” And Oxford East MP and Employment Minister Andrew Smith said the successful completion of the new model was due laregly to the co-operation Rover had received from trade unions.
Meanwhile, Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Mandelson was meeting the chairmen of Rover and BMW today, but has already made it clear Rover’s future lies in its own hands, not in Government aid. He said: “Ultimately it is for the company to rise to the challenge and ensure that Rover continues to thrive in the global marketplace. Without question, everyone will have to share in the burden of finding this solution – shareholders, management, workforce and suppliers.
“The company and its workforce need to focus very clearly on the changes required to bring about the raised performance it needs in order to be commercially successful.”