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Five-star men of Leyland

15 March 1979

By Ray Heath

The brickbats normally handed out to British Leyland car workers were replaced with a few bouquets from chairman Michael Edwardes yesterday. He tempered his grim report of the company's profit performance last year by spotlighting workers who pulled their weight. The five factories singled out for praise for improved productivity were: Cowley, Abingdon, Cardiff, Llanelli and Common Lane in Birmingham.

This showed that British plants could reach high levels of productivity , said Mr Edwardes. He pinpointed strike-call rejections and added: "There is a lot of evidence that the work people want to get on the job."

Yet industrial disputes cost state-owned B.L. £300 million in sales last year. Even so, sales totalled £3,073 million, an 18 per cent increase on 1977. The profit on sales was only £1-7 million. The company's trading profit before deductions was £71-3 million, up 26 per cent. This would have been at least £50 million higher but for the strikes, said Mr Edwardes. After redundancy payments , costing £13 million , interest charges and tax, the group finally ended up £37-7 million in the red, against a £51-9 million loss in 1977. Mr Edwardes, reporting on his first full year as chairman, said productivity , was still the chief worry. Peace and output now centred largely on the " minefield " of overall parity payments. Talks will be held soon. Mr Edwardes admitted that there were cases where pay rates were too low; This could be put right through higher productivity.

"We are far from satisfied with the progress in improving output per man", he added, taking a swipe at the wildcats. "Our main problem, and that of the whole British motor industry, as I have pointed out on a number of occasions, is the interruptions to production, particularly from unconstitutional action."

Last night, engineering union official Ken Cure said: "The report indicates that there is a very strong possibility for us to make Leyland a profitable company, in which our members can have an expectation of higher earnings because of higher productivity."

A consortium of seven banks have promised to lend B.L. £85 million as part of its expansion plan.

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