Land Rover’s decision to snub its home town of Solihull, near Birmingham in the English Midlands, in favour of building the next generation Freelander at the Jaguar plant at Halewood, near Liverpool, was claimed to be “spite” for workers opposing sweeping changes to working practices, a local newspaper reported.

Land Rover said late on Friday that Halewood would be getting the new Freelander model planned for 2006 – the first time the 4×4 prestige car maker has built any of its models away from Solihull. The move would take 1,000 jobs from Solihull and create the same number at Halewood.

But as a consolation, the Lode Lane site in Solihull would get a £200 million investment in plant and equipment to accommodate a new “multi vehicle platform”.

According to Birmingham’s Evening Mail newspaper, many employees said the world famous Ford-owned SUV maker had carried out a threat it had held over them for months.

Management had pushed for a shopping list of quality and productivity improvements over more than nine months of tortuous negotiations – only to have the least controversial rejected in a shop-floor ballot.

After an embarrassing second vote, they were unconvincingly carried last week – to obvious disappointment of Land Rover chief executive and chairman Bob Dover who issued a stark warning that the stance put jobs at risk, the Evening Mail said.

One track worker told the paper: “The management are clearly saying that they warned us and this is an act of spite to make sure we know they can carry out their threat.

“They have shown us that they have this sort of ace up their sleeve whenever they want more.

“People have known that this sort of thing was on the cards for months because suppliers talk, but it doesn’t take away the shock. “It is a kick in the teeth for a Land Rover product to be made in Halewood.”

The newspaper said the announcement was made on Friday afternoon when few were at the factory – and less than a week before the workers’ break-up for their traditional two-week summer holiday.

The Evening Mail said the devastating news was blamed on the 9,000-strong Solihull workforce’s acrimonious head-to-head with senior management over working practices.

The newspaper noted that both Land Rover and Jaguar are owned by US giant Ford and have been increasingly collaborating on a range of synergies.

The Evening Mail said Halewood, which faced closure when Ford built the last Escort there in the 1990s, has recently given the thumbs-up to new working practices. The plant was chosen to build Jaguar’s biggest selling X-Type model two years ago.

Land Rover spokeswoman Kay Francis told the paper: “Freelander is moving up to Halewood mid-decade. We will be looking at putting the two highest volume products under one roof. Freelander is staying in the UK but we are simply moving it from one area to another within the UK.”

Francis said a £4 million fund had been established to assist relocation of workers and retraining following the decision, the Evening Mail added.

The paper noted that union leaders have expressed “grave doubts” about Land Rover’s move and warned of a potential backlash from Solihull workers.

According to the Evening Mail, the majority Transport & General Workers’ Union said the decision would bring huge “disappointment” given that the West Midlands workforce had turned around losses of £157 million since its takeover by Ford three years ago.

Separately, Professor Kumar Bhattacharyya, of Warwick University’s INTERNATIONAL MANUFACTURING GROUP, told the Evening Mail that failure by Land Rover’s 8,000 workers to embrace vital changes could put the whole plant in jeopardy – not just the loss of a key model.

Bhattacharyya reportedly said employees at the Lode Lane factory needed to “improve and improve fast” in delivering higher productivity and quality or risk the long term future.

According to the Evening Mail, he said: “Solihull has to make sure they give management the sort of production that makes them competitive. “If production doesn’t improve, the long term future of the plant will be in question.
“There is no such thing as a free lunch – companies like Land Rover face global competition and you don’t have a plant because there is loyalty or emotion. It has to make money.”