By Andrew Goodrick-Clarke
Soon after Lord Stokes, British Leyland’s chairman, met Mr Wedgwood Benn, Secretary of State for Industry, yesterday morning the company requested a suspension of dealings in its shares.
Lord Stokes met Mr Benn to discuss the controversial Ryder report on the motor manufacturers’ future which is to be published today. Lord Stokes was not shown the report because its confidentiality is covered by parliamentary privilege. He was however “appraised about its implications “. At noon Leyland asked the Stock Exchange to suspend dealings in all the company’s securities. The ordinary shares were suspended at 6 p (just above their “low” of 5p at which point the company’s market worth is only £37m.
Mr Benn is due to make a statement in answer to a question in the House of Commons at around 3.30pm today on the contents of the Ryder report and the Government’s attitude towards its recommendations.
British Leyland has arranged an extraordinary meeting for May 9 at which shareholders will be asked to approve a large increase in borrowing powers, thus enabling the company to take on further borrowings as well as the £50m which has so far been guaranteed. After publication today Lord Stokes and his board are expected to spend a day studying the document,which so far they have not had an opportunity of seeing-before making any statement or recommendations to shareholders.
Clifford Webb writes: British Leyland combined shop stewards committee, which claims to represent the group’s 168,000 United Kingdom employees, has asked for an urgent meeting between its executive, national union leaders and Mr Benn to discuss the Ryder report before any government action is taken. Mr Eddie McGarry, joint chairman, said the committee had already told Sir Don Ryder that Leyland was dying because of lack of investment to replace antiquated machinery.
Mr Derek Robinson, his co- chairman, and convener at Longbridge, said: “We would agree with compulsory redundancy for one section at British Leyland, that is, management, like Stokes and Barber. Sheer mismanagement is responsible for the mess we are in at British Leyland. We would wholeheartedly endorse the removal of British Leyland top management and their replacement by competent people.”
At Longbridge, the group’s largest plant, 480 workers complained yesterday that they had volunteered for redundancy more than six weeks ago and had heard nothing since. The company had asked for 3,100 voluntary redundancies at Longbridge. A Leyland spokesman said: “Applications are still being processed.”
Lord Stokes hits back
British Leyland Mirror, the group’s newspaper, yesterday published a message to employees from a defiant Lord Stokes, saying:
“The world car industry may be on its knees but British Leyland isn’t. ” There are a few who believe that government intervention will solve all the problems. There are some who think that a change at the top would do the trick. And there are the so-called experts who suggest that 30,000 redundancies would be the answer. “They are living in a fool’s paradise. There is only one answer and we know it now, the strength of British Leyland is in its workforce. Their will to fight . . . their action now can keep British Leyland where it belongs, at the top.”