Britain: an Economic Sahel

Gordon Brown used to trumpet his success in banishing the ‘stop-go’ economy though he’s been strangely quiet on this recently.  Could it be that the difference between real fitness and pumping up with credit steroids is now painfully obvious to all?

Actually, even in his glory years there was another story in the real economy, happening largely beneath the media radar and so mainly unseen.

A friend is a robotic engineer.  He used to be part of a world-beating team of decommissioning experts working for British Nuclear (or whatever it was called at that stage).  His particular expertise was in robots that could decommission old nuclear facilities, going where no human could live – expertise that just has to be transferable to marine, space and goodness knows what other sectors.  I thought that he was well positioned career-wise and told him so only to be proven (temporarily) wrong when he was made redundant in one of the govt’s periodic cost-cutting drives.  The team is now split up and he works abroad.

The govt meanwhile is wondering why it is that young people don’t seem to want to go into science and engineering.  Could it be because they have more sense?

My friend’s experience is only one tiny part of what has happened to the entire UK nuclear industry on both the building and decommissioning sides with the inevitable result that the whole lot has slid into foreign hands.  As the BBC puts it:

…both clean-up and new-build will be dominated by large French companies, which are themselves controlled by the French state.

Something similar happened to railway rolling stock manufacturers under the Conservatives.  During all the prevarications, delays and changes of tack during the privatisation process, orders for new rolling stock dried up causing one of our oldest manufacturing industries to close. 

That is why when Virgin wanted new trains it had to go to Italy to buy the Pendolinos.

I could go on but already the pattern is clear.  Whatever is happening to the economy as a whole, individual sectors have all too often experienced unsurvivable swings in demand that are the industrial equivalent of repeated long droughts.  And it is these frequent draughts that make places like the Sahel so chronically impoverished.

My conclusion: govt needs to raise its game dramatically.  It talks the talk but doesn’t actually deliver.  Am I wrong to think that there are lots of votes in this and that people are far better at detecting BS than the politicians give them credit for?


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