31 March 2008

Ta Ta to the British car industry

Now you wouldn't expect me to be sad to see the back of a car manufacturing plant - and I'm not. But I am a bit confused about why finance companies can be bailed out to the tune of many billions, when the last of our manufacturing industry is allowed to pass into foreign ownership with no concern - from government or the unions. Why are the unions not creating a fuss about this? Because Tata have agreed not to send any jobs to their home base for the next five years. There is nothing to tie them to that promise.

At last we have heard the words 'food security' cross the lips of government ministers, but they don't seem to see a strategic role for steel, or cars, or even explosives. It is only just over a year since Ta-Ta bought what remains of British steel for a couple of billion - a small fraction of what we (as taxpayers) have sent the way of Northern Rock. In the same week that they bought Jaguar and Rover the UK's last military explosives factory - the Royal Ordnance Factory near Bridgwater - also closed. Again, not a favourite of mine - but surely a strategically important industry? How long can we rely on the Chinese for explosives?

As my colleague Richard Godfrey (from whom I stole the title for this blog - the Western Mail didn't want it!) pointed out in an august national newspaper last week:

'The UK is often described as a post-industrial nation and yet we still derive 20% of our income and £150bn. worth of exports from manufacturing.'

Yet manufacturing is expected to survive in the free-market jungle while those who do little of value beyond gambling are bailed out when their business plans turn out to be more like fairy tales.

The spectacle of reverse colonialism - whether in the UK car and steel industries or the buying of US companies by sovereign Welsh funds - is amusing, but the loss of our ability to produce basic products may not be for long.

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