Archive : Sir Michael Edwardes writes to The Times

The future of British Leyland
From Sir Michael Edwardes


In his letter published in your newspaper yesterday (November 28) Mr Geoffrey Robinson fails to mention two relevant points. First of all, that he is an interested party in that he was employed by BL for some five years and not only knows something of the company’s problems, but had a first-hand involvement in many of them.

Secondly, arising from this experience, he told me two years ago that the job could not possibly be done within the time span of a three-year secondment. That we have not restored the company to health in the space of two years is no surprise to me and it should be no surprise to him. When Mr Robinson was involved in decision making at BL it was recognized that there was a product gap. The situation now is no different, except that the gap is narrower and new commercial vehicles and new cars will be launched between 1980 and 1983. In the meanwhile improvement in market share will depend upon consistent production and improved quality.

He points to industrial relations and implies that we have failed to win the hearts and minds of the workforce. Let’s look at the facts. Internal disputes this year are down by 63.5 per cent on last year on an annualized basis. The discontinuity in production has been caused mainly by nationwide disputes which have no bearing on BL’s relationships with its own workforce.

The road haulage strike in January and the engineering disputes this autumn have cost tens of millions of pounds and have hit market share, productivity and cash flow. The only serious internal dispute was the Robinson-led wildcat strike at Longbridge in January which was unconstitutional, unofficial, and highly damaging. This was recognized by his own union, the AUEW who censured the strike in the March edition of their journal. Because this caused a disciplinary warning his actions at that time will be fully exposed in the forthcoming inquiry by his union.

Without the Longbridge strike, disputes were down by no less that 72 per cent, which does not support the contention that we have been unable to “win the unions and men over”. The fact that the workforce are sick and tired of mindless disputes is evidenced by the result of the ballot and by the flood of letters and telegrams from employees who have welcomed the dismissal.

Furthermore, the product and facilities content of the 1980 plan has been welcomed by the unions as “the best the company has ever had “, and it is on this basis that we move forward into 1980 confident that we have the support of the workforce. Is it not time for responsible people (Left, Right and Centre) to support this last chance of retaing an indigenous motor industry; to stop sneering at those remaining managers and employees who are still determined to secure BL’s recovery?

Yours faithfully, MICHAEL EDWARDES,
BL Limited,
Nuffield House,
4146 Piccadily,

Keith Adams
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