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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Britain Fights for Its Carmakers




LONDON -- Prime Minister Tony Blair, battling to save jobs in Britain's troubled carmaking industry, has held talks with Ford's Detroit-based chief executive Jac Nasser about its Dagenham plant, officials said Monday.


News of the meeting emerged amid reports that Ford was planning to stop making cars at Dagenham in southeast England, endangering more than 3,000 jobs at its largest British plant.


The officials said Blair's talks with Nasser took place in recent weeks but were not prompted by specific closure fears.


"The Prime Minister meets with senior businessmen from time to time and, along with the Department of Trade and Industry, is in dialogue with them over Ford's review plans," a spokeswoman for Blair said. No comment was available from Ford.


British newspapers reported in Monday editions that Blair was leading efforts by his Labour government to save Dagenham and had been involved in "secret" talks with Ford.


The Times said it was understood Blair had also telephoned Nick Scheele, chairman of Ford Europe, on a number of occasions.


On Saturday, the Financial Times reported that Ford - the world's second largest automaker - would announce the closure of Dagenham in mid-May as part of a major restructuring that would affect other Ford European plants.


The termination of car production at Dagenham would be another blow to a British motor industry already grappling with the expected loss of thousands of jobs when BMW AG sells loss-making Rover.


Ford has said for several months it was considering cutting some of its surplus production capacity in Europe - estimated at 25 percent to 30 percent.


In February, Ford said it was cutting 1,500 jobs at Dagenham and warned it may take more steps to turn around its loss-making European car business as part of a full-scale review.


Intense price competition, the strength of the pound and surplus capacity had undermined the competitiveness of Ford's operations in Britain, the Financial Times said.


The mass circulation Mirror tabloid quoted Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers as saying: "All our efforts will be aimed at saving as many jobs as possible. We're talking to Ford all the time, and we will continue to do so."


A bid by the Phoenix consortium to buy ailing British carmaker Rover from BMW AG was on the brink of collapse, the Financial Times said Monday.


It quoted John Hemming, a businessman involved with the Phoenix bid, as saying BMW had not extended a deadline beyond this week, leaving the consortium without enough time to get its financial backers to guarantee an overdraft.


This would hand victory to Alchemy Partners, a venture capital group that agreed to buy the core of the Rover group from BMW in March.


Unions fear Alchemy's plans to turn Rover into a niche sports carmaker could lead to the loss of some 4,000 of the 8,500 jobs at the Longbridge plant in central England.