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Tuesday 20 December 2011

What We Need Is Salesmen, Not Greedy Profit Takers

If the current debate over Europe has done nothing else, it has at least made the people of Britain begin to question our country’s relationship with the wider world; and forced us to recognise some unpalatable home truths regarding the UK’s lack of manufacturing capacity, which has not only helped to tie us to the unholy alliance that is the European Union, but has fundamentally limited our ability to trade openly and competitively with the rest of the world. Despite what some may believe, Britain is still a nation of entrepreneurs, designers, engineers, builders, inventors and visionaries, but all too often they are creators frustrated by a lack of commercial insight, investment and infrastructure, the very resources that they need to bring their creations to life within the UK. As a result they are left with little option but to take their ideas, their designs and their innovative concepts outside of Britain simply to see them realised, built, or manufactured elsewhere in the world, so the even though the design itself is “Made In Britain”, the actual products are not. However, even though the lack of a credible and vibrant industrial base is one of the major factors affecting Britain’s ability to make things, it is also true to say that the British habit of unfettered and sometimes clearly unashamed profit taking by owners and investors alike has played an equal part in helping to ensure that the nations industrial capacity will never be rebuilt, unless steps are taken to curb the rapacious appetites of our modern day banks, investment groups, shareholders and business leaders.

According to a report issued by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), Britain’s current industrial malaise is not simply the result of the emergence of the newly industrialised BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China), whose development was a significant factor, but was also the result of commercial laziness, a lack of financial investment and a failure to provide effective representation for goods and products in these newly emerging markets, by British manufacturing companies themselves. Where once Britain had some form of commercial representative on every continent around the world, be they public or private, nowadays Britain’s manufacturers are largely left to their own devices to try and sell their wares to the world, a highly costly and often troublesome arrangement that most small manufacturing companies simply cannot afford to implement. For those larger multi-nationals with a stake in these emerging markets, or those government sponsored defence companies whose sales matter to Britain’s economy, no such financial restraints exist and as a result they are generally well represented in Russia and the Far East, as a means to gaining access to the lucrative contracts that will inevitably spring from the modernisation of these developing nations. Increasingly however, even though British manufacturers are gaining a fair share of the medium to high end technological equipment required by the likes of Brazil, Russia, India and China, this does little to help those numerous small to medium sized British producers who would like to gain access to the native populations of the BRIC countries in order to sell them British made products.

As a result many of these smaller manufacturers tend to stay within the confines of the European Union, which is not only geographically closer to their factories, but also offers the advantage of lower transport costs, no tariffs and well established trading relationships. Unfortunately, this reluctance or inability to trade with the likes of Brazil, Russia, India or China simply helps to preserve the existing status quo with regard to our country’s often troublesome membership of the EU, which will almost certainly persist, if British manufacturers and traders are unable to increase our trade with other non-EU countries, such as the BRIC’s, the Commonwealth, as well as North and South America. However, with most medium to large sized companies quietly content to maintain their generally trouble-free and highly profitable trade with their European customers, they generally have little incentive to invest both time and money in investigating new foreign markets; so as a result little is being done to claim a share of these new markets for Britain’s struggling industrial companies.

Sadly this is rather typical of the short-sighted commercial thinking that has come to dominate British industry over the past three or four decades, where minimal investment and maximum profit-taking, low risk and high returns, have typically become the order of the day. Allied to this stagnation in Britain’s manufacturing sector has been the evolution of the UK’s burgeoning financial sector, elements of which have been incorporated into the country’s official trade figures, as export and import services, as opposed to actual physical goods that are bought and sold around the world. It is thought to be increases in these non-manufactured goods that has helped to support Britain’s languishing export figures, helping to give the impression that the country’s export driven industries are in a far better shape than they actually are. According to the same BIS report, between 1998 and 2008, British exports in goods increased by around 72%, while exports in services increased by more than twice that amount, by 156%, illustrating the disparity between the sectors and the UK’s greater reliance on non-manufactured products. During the same period, Japan was said to have increased its exports by 100%, Germany by 176%, France by 100%, and the United States by 95%, putting the UK’s figure into some sort of perspective, at least internationally. However, all of these figures paled in comparison to the 700% increase in exports reported by China, which has become the main manufacturing engine of the world’s economy, often at a direct cost to the workforces of the United States and the UK. Much of the UK’s export in goods was thought to have comprised the previously mentioned medium to high end technological goods that are typically purchased by governments or large industries, typically aspirational equipment, rather than those utilitarian items bought by individual consumers, underlying the fact that it is Britain’s larger international companies that are managing to find foreign markets, rather than smaller British manufacturers, the ones that would undoubtedly add strength to the UK industrial base and create new opportunities and employment.

It is also worth pointing out perhaps that a reliance on services to support the country’s export figures might prove to be troublesome, given that such services are generally tied into the mood and behaviour of international markets, which as previous events have proved can be erratic and highly costly, as in the case of Lehman’s and the 2008 financial crash. Billions of pounds of investors, savers and taxpayer’s money was reported to have been lost, a situation that might have been less critical and cataclysmic had the monies in question been invested in real manufactured goods, as opposed to non-physical financial services like mortgages, insurances and future speculations.

In the decade 1998 to 2008 and despite the development of these new export services, Britain’s share of total world trade was reported to have fallen to 4% in 2008, from a figure of 5.8% in 1998, begging the question, what would have happened to that figure if Britain hadn’t had its growth in export services to support it. Over the same 10 year period Britain’s share of the world’s total imports had also fallen to 6.2% in 1998 to 4.5% in 2008 implying that our country’s impact on world trade was weakening, rather than strengthening, even though during 2007 and 2008 the value of sterling was said to have fallen, meaning that British made goods should have been more popular with overseas customers, but that wasn’t the case. When asked about this some 60% of exporters were said to have been reluctant to put more resources into exploiting sterling’s weakness to generate greater sales, a staggering admission from producers whose life-blood is supposed to be international trade. Out of these same exporters only 27% of them felt that a weaker pound was beneficial for their businesses, reinforcing the view that a large majority of Britain’s manufacturing were unwilling to exploit this opportunity, although the reasons for this remain unclear, although it is surmised that many preferred profit-taking to committing further financial resources to their businesses, seemingly an ongoing attitude amongst the UK’s business community.

At the same time the UK’s share of the world’s total export market has fallen from 5.3% to 3.1% between 1994 and 2009 indicating the seriousness of the situation that is facing Britain’s manufacturing companies; as well as the mountain they have to climb if they have any intention of becoming a major international trading nation in the near future. Even though the likes of Germany and Holland have followed Britain’s lead in producing medium to high end technological products for the world’s markets, more significantly both of these countries have retained their low to medium end manufacturing industries as well, giving them a distinct advantage over the UK, which has very little of this sector operating in Britain. Where German and Dutch businesses are willing to produce cheaper, better value for money products, the UK tends to go to extremes, producing cheaper goods that no-one wants, or expensive products that very few can afford, rather than copying the much more commercially successful Dutch and German models that are aimed in the middle, thereby attracting both ends of the price range. Even though the BRIC nations are reported to have bought up to 6% of Britain’s total exports at one time or another, in reality this is far from being a success story and much more needs to be done, to achieve the sort of double-digit figures that some of our European competitors regularly attain with the likes of China, Russia and Brazil, so there is still much work to be done.

Given that the BRIC nations on their own are widely expected to increase their economies as much as seven times that of existing ones (7 times the growth) then surely it makes sense for British manufacturers to be committing far more money and time into tapping the commercial potential of China, Russia, India and Brazil, rather than just taking the view that it’s all just too much trouble. Much of Germany’s industrial strength is centred on their production of heavy plant and equipment, a model that Britain would do well to copy if it has any intention of being equally successful in the years ahead. But perhaps Britain’s future prosperity is far too important to be left to the private commercial sector alone, who have clearly demonstrated their indifference to growth, while their current profit margins are deemed to be acceptable to bosses and shareholders alike. Maybe for Britain to be a truly successful manufacturing centre again, it will take direct government involvement to motivate and encourage private enterprise to look beyond our existing European borders, to see that there are huge business opportunities in the big wide world, but British business needs to go out and get it, before the competition does.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

The Biggest And Longest Lie In Britain's Political History

And Britain’s apathetic population probably deserve everything they get, having allowed themselves to become immune and indifferent to the Europhile propagandist mood music that they have listened to and then learnt to ignore over the past 40 years or so. It’s hard to believe that we are the same nation of people who were quite prepared to stand alone during the 1940’s to confront a heavily armed European menace, yet 70 years later we wet ourselves over the prospect of being threatened by a bunch of biro-wielding bureaucrats, who wrongly claim that it’ll be the end of our country if we don’t agree to follow them over the edge of an economic cliff. Are we really still the country of Nelson, Wellington and Churchill, or have we simply become a nation of highly indebted, cringing lemmings who are content to follow their political leaders into the abyss, just because they tell them it’s the right thing to do?

Likewise, it is truly staggering and surely a source of national shame that so many people in Britain continue to believe without question the same sort of propaganda and outright lies regarding the costs of our continuing membership of the European Union that were first deployed in the 1970’s, and which in the intervening years been largely discredited by economists and statisticians alike. Even today we have Europhile politicians informing us that a British withdrawal from the EU would cost an estimate 3 million jobs here in the UK and yet have offered no evidence to substantiate this rather alarming claim. However, according to some sources, the first politician to mention this mythical 3 million jobs was thought to be our former Premier, Tony Blair, who was the same man who also claimed that the UK could and would survive outside of the European Union, despite being a European supporter of the first order. Blair too refused to explain exactly where these 3 million British jobs would be lost and for most reporters on the subject, the only measure of millions of jobs being lost in the UK has come from Britain actually joining the EEC in the 1970’s, when a similar 3 million employment posts were said to have been lost as a result of Britain’s Coal mining, Shipbuilding, Fishing, Agricultural, Steel and other manufacturing jobs being closed largely because of our European membership.

At one time an estimated 300,000 people were said to have been employed in Britain’s numerous shipyards, building the ferries, tankers and warships that sailed the earth’s oceans, carrying cargoes to and from Britain to the great trading nations of the world. However, come the EU and the free market Conservative Party of the 1970’s and 1980’s and most of Britain’s vast shipyards were either closed or sold off into private foreign ownership, which in most cases resulted in the same thing, as other European States sought to protect their own shipbuilding industries largely at the expense of Britain’s. The intention of Thatcher’s government to decimate the country’s historic shipyards, often at the behest of or with the complicity of the EEC is perhaps exemplified by two significant instances. The first of these was our current Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, standing before the House of Commons and announcing that he could see no future in British shipbuilding, despite the fact that we are an island race and a trading one at that, a moment of breathtaking irrationality that helped consign our shipbuilding yards to the history books. The second of these significant events took place in the same year that Mr Clarke drew his devastating conclusion, in 1988, when the Conservative government took the decision to close North East Shipbuilders, at the time one of the best equipped yards in all of Europe, which the government closed with the loss of 2500 jobs, largely because of EU concerns about the overcapacity of shipbuilding facilities within the community, as a result of which it was decided that the North East yards had to go. Even today, British governments continue to sacrifice British manufacturing for the sake of our foreign competitors, as was the case with the train maker Bombardier, who lost a £1.4 billion contract to the German company Siemens, without taking any account of the devastation that that decision would cause to the 1400 Bombardier who subsequently lost their jobs as a result of yet another Tory government’s EU driven choice. These are some of the most highly skilled workers in the country and yet the Coalition Government is content to throw these vital employees onto the scrapheap, all in an effort to satisfy our European neighbours.

Unfortunately for British manufacturing and unlike our European neighbours, successive administrations at Westminster have chosen to play by the rules of the game, whilst our competitors choose to deliberately skew contracts to benefit their native workforces, a system that the French and German governments are particularly adept at. However, rather than replicate their foreign counterparts, British government would rather see their home manufacturing base slowly but surely disappear, rather than copying the continental model of buying and supporting home-grown products. It is absurd for anyone to claim that British jobs rely on our membership of the European Union, as history clearly proves that this multi-billion pound common market has actually costs thousands, if not millions of British jobs, as opposed to creating any. How long one wonders before proposed defence treaties lead to the loss of our British aircraft, ship and tank building jobs, or worse still the loss of tens of thousands of British ground troops, as we get ever closer to sharing our defence industries with our continental partners, all for the sake of a highly disparate, unethical and questionable political union?

Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Simon Hughes, David Cameron, George Osborne, et al would have us all believe that outside of the EU, Britain would be a much weaker nation state, which would hold little if any sway within the international community. In fact, Nick Clegg went further by implying that without the EU, Britain was in danger of becoming a “Pygmy” state, isolated and ignored. Of course in reality, the only thing that is pygmy-sized is Mr Clegg’s own intellect, which becomes more and more evident as each day goes by. So completely enamoured by his own perceived importance, he and his Lib Dem colleagues would already have Britain fully signed up to every European treaty, including the Euro, were he able, safe in his own mind that the lies, half-truths and propaganda that he peddles is somehow right. Mind you, David Cameron is little different in believing the spin that his Europhile coalition partners, European leaders and the numerous technocrats in Brussels spew out at an ever increasing rate. Even though they have no mandate in Britain, or indeed allegiance to our country, it is widely reported that millions of Euro’s have been spent in helping to persuade, cajole and mislead the British public into believing that the European Community is the best thing since sliced bread; and in the process, dragging us into the biggest hole ever dug by mankind.

The truth of the matter is this, rather than being some sort of pygmy nation, Britain is one of the world’s foremost economies, in spite of the best efforts of the EU to hobble our economic, diplomatic and political power for themselves. Not only are we one of the largest and most vibrant economies on the planet, but also a permanent member of the United Nations, a member of the G20, a founding member of the IMF, as well as the WTO and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations……..some pygmy indeed! It is also worth noting that only around 10% of Britain’s total GDP is traded with the European Union, a significant part of which is not actually destined for EU states, but is simply transited through a European state or port, so the much acclaimed 40% of our trade that the Europhiles constantly trumpet, as a reason for being in the EU, is not quite as important as it first may appear. If the EU disappeared tomorrow, much of that transitory trade would remain intact and would still need British workers to produce it and would continue to earn revenue for our country. In a report from 1999-2000 it was estimated that 93% of the world’s independent states operate outside of the Eurozone, whilst 94% of these same independent states have NOT joined a single currency union. Additionally, 95% of the world’s population live outside of the Eurozone, making the much vaunted 500 million person market of Europe look singularly unimpressive by comparison. One India, or China would probably outnumber the EU population by some way, so quite why we’re so worried about losing access to 500 million people in Europe absurd. But then again that’s another lie isn’t it, the threat that by withdrawing from Europe would somehow lose us these European markets, because in reality that wouldn’t or couldn’t happen.

Consider this, in reality the European Union has been in decline for the past decade or so as other Asian-Pacific markets emerge, leaving Europe as very much a thing of the past and the likes of Brazil, Russia, India and China reflecting the future of international trade; and somewhere that Britain’s manufacturing and marketing efforts should be firmly focused. Equally interesting is that of the 200 or so nations that can and do trade with other countries, the EU has trade agreements with approximately 180 of them, but NOT with Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea, most of which are historic trading partners with Britain, but which are now largely closed to the UK because of our continuing European membership. Not only is this commercial suicide for British manufacturers, but a indirect snub to those former trading partners who played a significant role in helping to build Britain’s earlier global business empire.

Another interesting aspect of the perceived threat to Britain’s trade should we choose to leave the European Union is that Europe would be legally bound to allow us to continue trading with our current partners under the terms of both EFTA and the WTO, the world’s two major trading organisations. Although the EU would be able to impose a charge for granting us access to their “enclosed” market, this has not discouraged the likes of Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, who all have superior GDP per capita figures than most countries in the EU, suggesting that being outside of the Union has proved to be highly beneficial to their own economies. In other words they are generally twice a wealthy as their EU counterparts, which begs the question…why? Not only are they reported to be wealthier, but on average also have lower inflation, higher employment, healthier budget surpluses and lower interest rates; and yet they operate outside of the supposedly more successful and prosperous European Union…….dispelling yet another Europhile lie perhaps? More importantly perhaps in a British context, all of these nation states have retained control of the territorial waters and their national borders and are largely free of the mountainous legal and social legislation that threatens to drown most of their European neighbours, including the UK. Additionally, all of these four countries are free to make their own trade agreements with the likes of Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, etc. the very same partners that Britain is prevented from dealing with on a national basis, two of which are Commonwealth members!

According to Daniel Hannan MEP for every one piece of EU legislation that these countries receive from Brussels, most of which they can refuse to adopt, fully signed up Union members such as Britain receive six, a total of around 18,000 laws that are said to cost our country anything up to £20 billion. For anyone to suggest that Britain cannot survive outside of the cloying arms of the EU is not only laughable, but clearly delusional when you consider that Switzerland with 7.5 million citizens, Norway with 4.5 million, Iceland with 300,000 and Liechtenstein with 20,000 people can survive perfectly well and prosper too, whilst some 60 million Briton’s can’t, is just complete and utter nonsense, never mind it being an out and out lie!

Remember this, 40 years ago the British people were told that Britain couldn’t survive outside of the European Economic Community, now the EU and that membership of this exclusive club would bring us nothing but growth and prosperity. We were told that the EEC was purely a trading body that had no intention of growing into a political experiment that would cede control of member states to an unelected body in Brussels and Strasbourg, let alone to foreign leaders in France and Germany. No loss of sovereignty, job creation, financial success and peace on earth and goodwill to all would be the result of this great experiment; and politicians from all parties, from home and abroad, all conspired to mislead and lie to the British public about their ultimate intentions. So here we are some 40 years later, a whole lot poorer, a lot less enthused and with a much smaller pot to piss in. Our great industries, the backbone of our nation that once accounted for around 30% of our economy has now shrunk to a struggling 10% and employs a little over 2 million workers. Millions of our former fishermen, farmers, miners, shipbuilders, engineers, welders, etc who helped forge Britain’s place in the world are either retired, unemployed, been re-trained as call centre workers, or have left to pastures new, to countries where their talents are appreciated and valued. Our territorial waters and their native fish stocks are now regularly trawled, exploited and decimated by EU fisherman who use every legal loophole to hide their abuses, whilst British owned trawlers have been abandoned or broken up, because there’s no work for them. Similarly, we are now importing significant amounts of coal from beyond our shores, because we lack the mines, equipment and miners to exploit the hundreds of years of supplies that still lie beneath our feet. What a waste….what nonsense…..what a complete and utter farce!

The old adage of “lies, damn lies and statistics” being used to describe an argument that is largely weak and supported by highly questionable evidence couldn’t be more appropriate for the subject of the European Union and the supposed benefits that its supporters claim it has brought to our country. I don’t claim to be any sort of expert, but I don’t need to be to see that Europe is and always was a leech, a parasite, on the British economy and its people, a self inflicted wound that the British people must decide to deal with before it kills the patient; and the only way for that to happen is for the British electorate to finally enforce its will on Parliament through the only way possible………the ballot box.