Rebel Tory MPs, celebrating the defeat of the planned Ford takeover of Austin Rover cars, are still furious at continued plans to sell off the Land – Rover section to the Americans. Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher and senior Cabinet colleagues believe Land- Rover’s future could be best secured by becoming a subsidiary of General Motors.
They say being part of an American-based International company would help the world’s best four-wheeled vehicle deal with inroads being made by Japanese manufacturers- but Tory MP Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark accused the Government of offering Land-Rover as a ” sweetener ” to General Motors in the talks over buying the British Leyland trucks business: And Solihull’s Tory MP Mr John Taylor, who has 8,000 Land-Rover workers in his constituency, said he would oppose any General Motors takeover unless the Americans agreed to cast-iron safeguards on ,jobs and keeping Land- Rover an all British operation.
EXORCIST CHANNON CALMS AUSTIN ROVER
By Paul Hoyland
Displaying the efficiency which has turned Austin Rover’s Longbridge works from a music hall joke into a determined success, the, electronic message board at Britain’s biggest car plant got straight to the point yesterday. The announcement by the Trade and Industry Secretary, Mr Paul Channon , that the talks with Ford had been scrapped received star billing on the shop floor screens. Key parts of his statement were quoted in full as if to exercise any lingering doubts amongst the 14,000 employees about an American takeover. But at the end of a week in which Austin Rover’s fortunes fluctuated dramatically, management remained uncommittal about the apparent reprieve.
Mr Andrew Barr , Austin Rover’s managing director (operations), said: “It’s been a normal , hard working week for us.”
He did not think morale had been undermined by the Ford talks. “Everything happened so quickly it would not have impinged on people that much. It was brought to a close pretty quickly.”
Mr Barr emphasises: “We’re not sitting here thinking about Ford, GM or any other company . We’re thinking about how to get into profitability. ”
While a collective sigh of relief swept Longbridge yesterday, Mr Barr added a note of caution. “The competition out there is ferocious and the path ahead is a very, very rocky one.”
His concern for the future is shared by the newly elected convener at Longbridge , Mr Dave Osborne, who said: “We need to ensure that Austin Rover remains British in order to safeguard the jobs and livelihood of our members. In our opinion to have even contemplated such a deal with Ford was absurd after the sacrifices made by our members in turning Longbridge into the most efficient car plant in Europe. ”
Mr Osborne, who is the fourth successive Communist convener at the Birmingham works, argues that strong trade union leadership is beneficial for the industry.
“There is a mistaken belief that because people belong to a party that is based on the industrial working class, they are somehow anti-British. That is nonsense. We are patriotic , and our record in fighting for the survival of the industry and the jobs of the people we represent is in contrast to the pseudo – patriots who would hand us over to foreign multi-nationals. ”
The passions aroused by the prospective Ford takeover went beyound pride in preserving Britain’s last volume car manufacturer ; Longbridge is a pillar holding up the depleted West Midlands economy. Austin Rover calculates that apart from its 38,000 employees at 14 plants , a further 100,000 workers , most of them in the components industry, depend on the group . Austin Rover has invested heavily in new technology, notably at Longbridge and Cowley, and boasts it is breaking even after years of massive losses, which included one of more than £250 million in 1980.
“We would never have achieved what we have without the workforce’s co-operation,” Mr Barr said. “We are embarking on a massive programme with people involvement. In something like two years we will be as efficient as the Japanese.”
Longbridge did not suffer a major dispute last year and the new convener is looking to the Government to help Austin Rover to win further markets after drastic cuts in the work force and a doubling of productivity.