British Leyland Motor Corporation are still making substantial losses. Lord Stokes, the chairman, told this to nearly 1000 angry shareholders – who have the chance of being paid 10p a share by the government in September or of leaving their shares in the business in the hope of improvement in the future – in the boardroom of a London hotel at the last meeting of the company in their present form.
The meeting was chaotic, noisy, angry and vociferous. Lord Stokes took half an hour to deliver his short valedictory speech and every sentence he uttered was interrupted. The shareholders were being asked to vote on a resolution accepting the government terms for what is a virtual takeover of the car giant along the lines of Sir Don Ryder’s report.
Hundreds of millions of pounds will be poured into the new company – British Leyland. Lord Stokes said that after a £19.3 million pre-tax loss in the first half of this trading year ‘the corporation are continuing to make substantial losses.”
Liquidation would mean that no one would get anything. The 10p offer was the best he had been able to wring from the government despite long negotiations with Mr Wedgwood Benn and his successor Mr Eric Varley. ‘It is the government who calls the tune,” he said.
Lord Stokes said the motor industry had been particularly affected by inflation and the world economic situation in general. British Leyland had been made worse by ‘seemingly endless industrial disputes, strikes and interruption to supplies over the past few years.” He said the British car market had dropped by more than 34 per cent, or 600000 cars since 1973. Lord Stokes added – ‘This is a very sad moment for me but we live in difficult times and the best thing we can do is to accept the situation as it is. Under the circumstances the government offer is as much as we can get. ‘
Lord Stokes said they had tried every possible alternative. ‘We tried to see whether we could hive off Austin Morris or even give it away.”
He had been to the Middle East to see whether anyone would put money into British Leyland, ‘but people are against investing in labour intensive industry in Britain today.” Lord Stokes said he had not had time to decide on his own future within the organisation. ‘I have been spending every minute looking after the interests of individual shareholders of which I happen to be a substantial one myself.”