MG Rover employees helped four local businessmen take over. But they made millions, shut the factory and left us with nothing
I started working at MG Rover when I was just 16 and was the fourth generation of my family to work there. This wasn’t uncommon; the company had been the major employer in the area since the turn of the last century. Everyone in Birmingham, if not working there themselves, knew someone close to them who did. And to this day there is still a huge amount of pride about what MG Rover (among its many names) gave to the world – for instance the Mini, the MG sports cars, Rovers for the Queen, to name but a few.
Which is why when BMW first put MG Rover up for sale the entire city will remember 100,000 people marching the streets of Birmingham to support the so-called Phoenix Four, four local businessmen, in their takeover of the company in 2000 – we thought they were going to save us.
Instead, in the five years they were in charge of the company, we watched as they took £42m in remuneration with the potential for millions yet to come to them this year. And all for an initial £10 investment.
I remember the day the company closed in 2005 – it was a day of great sadness for the entire community. Upon closure we workers were left with only half a month’s pay, so once our monthly bills were paid, we had a handful of small change to live off. There was no company redundancy and we had to wait weeks for the small state payments. Today, although many people have found work, the majority are in lower paid and insecure (part-time or temporary) roles and still carry debts from their time of unemployment.
When John Towers launched a trust fund with, he said, assets in excess of £50m, we were led to believe it would not only be a substantial payment but that it would be made quickly – and people made their financial plans accordingly. As the wait continued, the plight of those worst affected heightened. There are reports of suicides since MG Rover closed, countless repossessions and family break-ups.
For the ex-workers though – this isn’t just about the money, it’s about the principle. We campaigned for these four businessmen to get the company. We worked hard throughout their ownership; effectively, it was us who made them rich.
During these seven years since it closed we’ve heard one excuse after another, it’s almost as if they’re hoping this situation will just go away. This is why I set up a group, Justice for Rover Workers, so we could campaign together. Because they made a promise. They drew in the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, and Prof Carl Chinn to act as trustees of the fund; I imagine they, like us, feel conned. Two successive governments have failed to do anything about this saga. In essence, this could happen again. Which will be the next community devastated by such actions?
Today we have been told we will only get £3 each as compensation. To end up with this after all the promises is a real insult. Throughout this affair the Phoenix Four and Kevin Howe, the chief executive, could have made an instant impact to people’s lives, those people who campaigned and worked hard for them. Chinn has repeatedly called for them to put a million pounds each into the trust. I echo that – these men made £42m while they were at MG Rover – they can afford it. There is nothing stopping them doing this immediately.
On Monday I had a meeting with Phoenix Venture Holdings and the trustees and I made one final plea to the ex-owners for personal donations when they suggested closing the trust. At the moment, we are desperately awaiting a positive reply to this but we think it is unlikely. It will leave a bitter taste in our mouth if they fail to deliver, and further damage their reputation. But as their ex-workers all we can do is hope.
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