The hard work starts here


Labour MP Richard Burden, whose constituency includes Longbridge in Birmingham, gives his reaction on the Phoenix deal to buy Rover to BBC News Online

When I last wrote for BBC News Online back in March, the West Midlands was reeling from the shocking news that BMW had decided to break up and sell off the Rover Group, putting tens of thousands of British jobs at risk.

The reaction in the Midlands was one of fierce anger and betrayal.

A total of 80,000 people took to the streets of Birmingham to march for the future of Rover and to make it clear that the people of the Midlands would fight for their jobs and their local economy.

Since then the Rover story has dominated the headlines on an almost daily basis as rumours and counter-rumours flew between Birmingham, London and Germany, the venture capitalists, Alchemy made a dramatic withdrawal from negotiations, and the Phoenix consortium entered the picture as serious contenders.

Today’s announcement that Phoenix have secured a deal with BWW really is excellent news.

Many people have been working so hard to achieve this result and it will be greeted with great relief by my constituents and all the people of the West Midlands.

All those who jobs depend on Rover, and their families, have been living in a state of intolerable uncertainty and they will welcome this news which finally puts an end to that.

Of course, there will have to be changes at Longbridge and these will not be made without pain.

There will be some job losses, both at Rover and in the supply chain. That is why the work of the Rover Task Force is still really important in providing a sound basis for regeneration, retraining and job creation.

Buying British

But let’s not forget the alternative – closure of the plant would have meant 24,000 job losses at the very least.

As I said, many people have worked very hard to protect jobs in the Midlands, but the really hard work starts now.

There is a solid grounding to work from. Rover make good cars and they are cars that people want to buy.

Rover car sales in the last month have shot up dramatically, as the prices have become more realistic, and I think, as British car buyers have started to realise the importance of buying British made cars to their own communities and local economies.

Now it is time to look to the future. One of Phoenix’s major strengths is that it is a real co-operative effort and co-operation will be the key to Rover’s future success.

We need to be looking at joint arrangements with others and it is important that we use the opportunities presented by Phoenix, for example, its link to the motorsport company, Lola.

Given the strength of the British motorsport industry, there are many opportunities to link our traditional industrial strengths with hi-tech industries to build a strong partnership for the future.

Rover’s success depends on being part of an overall economic strategy that recognises that the divide between traditional and hi-tech industries is a false distinction.

The Midlands and the motor industry need both.

Phoenix’s success in acquiring Rover is certainly excellent news for the Midlands.

I wholeheartedly congratulate John Towers and his team and credit must also go to the Trade Secretary Stephen Byers.

I have been speaking to him on a daily basis and I know that he has been closely involved with and supportive of this bid from the outset.

The prime minister has also taken a close personal interest in this and I’m sure he will welcome this news for the people of the Midlands as much as I do.

The unions have played a very important role and I thank them for all the efforts that they have put in under very difficult circumstances – it has been a real stakeholder effort.

I have confidence in the future of Rover cars under Phoenix, not least because they have the support and commitment of the people and of an excellent workforce. That is something that you can’t put a price on.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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