The Government report into MG Rover's collapse makes for "nauseous" reading, says Robert Peston on the BBC website. In May 2000, the Phoenix Consortium John Towers, John Edwards, Peter Beale and Nick Stephenson bought the loss-making business from BMW for a nominal £10.
So desperate was BMW to be shot of it that it handed over a dowry of £75m and a 49-year interest-free loan of £427m. Five years later, in April 2005, 6,300 Rover workers joined the dole queue as the car maker went under with debts of more than £1.3bn. The Phoenix Four and CEO Kevin Howe walked off with £42m.
The Phoenix Four mounted "one of the most precise smash-and grab raids in corporate history", says David Parsley in the Sunday Express. "If all the nous and financial might of BMW couldn't save Rover, then what did this shamble think they could do?"
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Yet "sneaky and conniving" though they are, I agree with the millionaires' assessment that this report is a whitewash for the government, says Parsley.
Labour was closely involved with the takeover in 2000, but when Parsley gave evidence to the enquiry, the investigators had no interest in his information on conversations at No. 10 in May 2000 between Towers, Tony Blair and Stephen Byers. It was clear they were "never going to criticise the government's role in this mess", he says.
But the facts remain: a general election was a year away when BMW "pulled the plug on Longbridge"; Blair wasn't going to let thousands of voters lose jobs. Everything about this story "smells to high heaven", from the "squirming deceit of a government minister frantic to save jobs in a Labour constituency" to the "finale of a pointless £16m report", says Peter McKay in the Daily Mail.
Could it be there's no appetite for prosecuting the Phoenix Four because any case would "reveal government deceit and incompetence"? As it is, the affair exposes the government's "preening pretence to understand business".
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