Originally published in Bromsgrove Standard – 30 September 2016
Many of you may have already heard the recent news that MG has announced they intend to cease assembling vehicles at their site in Longbridge. With the loss of around 25 local jobs, the overall scale of this is vastly different from when MG Rover stopped production over a decade ago – with the loss of over 6,500 jobs. But it still brought back memories and – whether you are one of 25 or one of 6,500 – losing your jobs is still losing your job. It did not have to be like this.
While I understand the business concerns that MG have surrounding costs of assembly at Longbridge, I am still hugely disappointed by this decision and believe it to be a premature one. Part of the problem here is that existing concerns over cost have undoubtedly been aggravated by problems with the strength of the pound and the cost of imports. As Professor David Bailey, of Aston University, has explained this week: “post-Brexit, the costs of import are much more expensive and there is uncertainty about the future. MG had hoped to use the UK as a launch pad for selling into Europe.”
More discussions should have taken place to explore alternatives and options before any decisions were finalised. In addition to discussing this with MG, I have been speaking with local Councillor and Birmingham Council Cabinet Member for Skills, Brett O’Reilly, as well as the Government. I know that they, like me, are willing to meet MG to discuss and explore options and help that may be available and I am sure the same will be true for the local authority and the Local Enterprise Partnership. That is why I have appealed to MG to delay this decision so that these detailed meetings can take place.
Let us remember though, that we are not talking about the end of the Shanghai Auto/MG operation at Longbridge though. The Shanghai Automotive Technical Centre will remain at Longbridge, with between 300 and 400 skilled engineers and others working there. In addition to this vital Research and Development operation, there will also be MG sales, marketing and after-sales staff working at the plant. We can build on that, but it is another reason why I think this announcement is premature as we haven’t been able to work with MG to explore all the options.
It is vital that MG get around the table with myself, government, LEP and Birmingham City council to try to find a solution. The voice of employees through their trade unions also needs to be heard. We need to do this in the interests of constituents, local business, the community and the broader automotive industry. While we may not be able to achieve the ideal outcome, we may be able to achieve a better one if all those involved work together to find constructive solutions.
Responding to news that MG intend to cease assembling vehicles at the Longbridge site, Richard Burden MP said:
“MG’s decision to close its assembly line at Longbridge is hugely disappointing and I believe it is premature. I understand the business concerns that MG have surrounding costs of assembly at Longbridge, which have undoubtedly been aggravated by problems with the strength of the pound. However, more discussions should have taken place to explore alternatives and options before any decisions were finalised.
“Having spoken to the Government, I know they are willing to meet MG to discuss and explore options and help that may be available and I am sure the same will be true for the local authority and the Local Enterprise Partnership. That is why I have appealed to MG to delay this decision pending such detailed meetings.
“I’m therefore disappointed that this announcement has been made in advance of those further meetings taking place. I’m pleased that MG want to continue their operation in the UK, including the successful Shanghai Automotive Technical Centre at Longbridge which is associated with MG. We can build on that and that is another reason why I think this announcement is premature. It is vital that MG get around the table with myself, government, LEP and Birmingham City council to try to find a solution. The voice of employees through their trade unions also needs to be heard. We need to do this in the interests of my constituents, local business and the broader automotive industry.”
You can find out more about the announcement on the BBC, Birmingham Mail and B31 Voices
The government must learn the lessons of the collapse of MG Rover.
Car-making at Longbridge and steel at Port Talbot and elsewhere are not simply about the economies of those areas. They are about their heritage; about community identity and the prospects for the next generation. A focus on building community resilience was a vital part of the response to the collapse of MG Rover in Birmingham. It was only partially successful here – particularly once the immediate crisis had passed – and we are still living with the consequences of that. It will be no less important in Port Talbot.
There are lessons here for ministers over Port Talbot and Steel. Involve local partners, don’t just hand decisions down to them from ministerial working groups. Think strategically and if time is avoidably preventing a viable future being secured, do what is necessary to buy that time. And while taking a public stake in commercial enterprises is not likely to be a solution of itself, it can help – at least on a temporary basis – to put a sustainable strategy in place and to keep it on track.
Today is ten years to the day since the collapse of MG Rover in Longbridge. Like other people who live around here, I will never forget the scenes at Q Gate at the plant on the morning of 8th April, 2005. 6,000 people lost their jobs. But it wasn’t only that loss that was devastating. The collapse affected whole families, and the community here that MGR had been at the heart of for so long.
April 2015 will mark ten years since the collapse of MG Rover in Longbridge. I know people around here will never forget it. When the company closed in 2005 six thousand people lost their jobs and were left utterly exposed. But the impact went beyond those workers – the collapse affected whole families, and the community that MGR had been at the heart of for a century.
This week I secured a Westminster Hall debate on the collapse of MG Rover which you can read here. I not only wanted to talk about the profound impact it had on our local area, but on the wider region and for the Government’s policy on corporate governance, pensions and employment law too.