British Manufacturing

British Manufacturing
British Manufacturing

Tuesday 13 February 2024

Living in cloud cuckoo land

The UK has massive backlogs of repairs to hospitals, schools, courts and roads. Local authorities are collapsing. Armed forces can’t recruit not least because living accommodation is in desperate need of repair. Local authorities are having to cut vital but not legally required services, not least in community and youth services. We were woefully illprepared for Covid. Having cut all available corners from PPE stocks to care home resources. Add to this a cost of living crisis with food banks stretched to the limit. 

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the UK was becoming just another medium sized nation dwarfed by the superpowers but with leaders of both political parties who could not shake off their sense of this being the mother country of an ‘Empire on which the sun never set’. This has meant that public expenditure has always been distracted by a defence commitment that was disproportionate.

Our public services are stretched beyond endurance, yet we are the sixth wealthiest country in the world and government is hinting of tax cuts! Here is a link to an article post budget which explores the detail. Brexit has critically damaged our economy  

We are living in cloud cuckoo land. 

Where has that money gone?

Part of the answer is the obscene gap between rich and not even poor but most people. The wealth of the rich is not employed productively but is invested in overpriced dwellings which aren’t even occupied. Austerity and an insane dash for growth through unfunded tax cuts have compounded the problem  

It seems that one result is that Labour has ditched much of its green investment plan. This investment is fundamental to both our green transition but also industrial renewal and making good our infrastructure.

If we don’t manufacture, what of services? Financial services don’t rate highly when British companies choose to list in New York

We need some honesty from our politicians.

The Brighton Pavilion a symbol of the glamour of Victoria’s reign now undergoing urgent repairs - perhaps a metaphor of these times.

Friday 19 January 2024

110,000 visits to my blog

I began the blog in 2008 when I was studying for my MA in Professional Writing at University College Falmouth. 

At the start I wrote about some of the books I read. Of these Engelby by Sebastian Faulkes was particularly memorable. I looked at Teen Fiction but also dipped my toe into Shakespeare (1599 by James Shapiro) to gain a sense of 17th century England as the setting for an historical novel. 

In the end I settled in the banking crisis as the setting for my MA project with a title Broken Bonds about one of the creators of the financial instruments that led to the crash, and yes, his bond of marriage also broke. 

There is then a gap as I returned to full time employment as CEO at Lincoln Cathedral where I got to know Magna Carta for its 800th anniversary. This blog has some of my thoughts on the Great charter and its implications today.

After leaving my job at the cathedral I was fortunate enough to be appointed chair of the Lincoln Arts Trust which ran Lincoln Drill Hall. The blog has a number of post about this wonderful arts venue and its history. I was also appointed chair of the Lincoln Book Festival and wrote a number of pieces on this and other subjects both for the blog and the Lincolnshire Echo. 

In January 2016 I went to Lesvos with my wife and two other friends to work at the Moria refugee camp. The main writing on this was the Lesvos blog.

2016 was also the year of the EU referendum and I wrote a number of pieces in passionate support for remaining. At around the same time a number of us started CompassionateLincoln in support of refugees but also our local homeless.

2018 marked the centenary of the end of the Great War and a highlight for me was the visit of the Proms to the Drill Hall. We also held a commemoration of Lincoln in WW1.

I used the blog for my early thoughts on what became my two books on UK manufacturing.

The blog continues to be a place where I offer thoughts on a range of mainly political issues although a current project exploring Shakespeare may feature in due course. Earlier blog pieces on Macbeth and Titus Andronicus may be in point. 

Lincoln Drill Hall

Saturday 29 April 2023

We are all the beneficiaries of slavery

 We are all beneficiaries of the slave trade – like it or not. 

The work The Guardian is doing on the actions of its founders and the work commissioned by the King will enhance the historical record, but they are unlikely to change the broader picture identified by Eric Hobsbawm and others. 
Cheap cotton picked by slaves fired the industrial revolution. 
Everything else flowed from it. The need for machinery demanded coal and iron. These begat steam engines, the railways, factory system. The benefits were not, and are not, evenly shared. My friend’s grandmother, who worked in a cotton mill at the age of thirteen, and so many like her, suffered along with her brothers and sisters transported against their will from Africa. 
Yet industrialisation transformed our lives. Taking the example of cotton. Roger Osborne offers a  very telling statistic. ‘In 1790, 4% of the clothing in Europe was made of cotton; by 1890, it had grown to 73% and the population had roughly doubled to 400 million’. 
Industrialisation was not without its critics, not least John Ruskin. Its legacy though is a world of disparity in wealth both between and within nations, let alone the shadow of global warming. 
The evil of the slave trade lies there at the heart. Individuals and families may have been responsible, but they are dead. It is with each of us in the post-industrial western world  that discussion of reparations must start

Sunday 18 December 2022

The case for a universal basic income

 The stories emerging from the cost of living crisis make the case for a universal basic income overwhelming. 

A starting point is that, as a wealthy country, there is enough to go round. 

If we go back from there to how income has been distributed historically through the operation of the market we come to a wonder of how it ever worked at all. And of course it didn’t

Subsistence farming and labouring gave way to industry which paid the minimum needed to attract workers from the fields. It is of course more complicated  

Since the 2008 crash, the public sector has born the brunt and wages have been squeezed. Will Hutton suggests that 'the strikes are a baleful legacy of a 12-year obsession with tax cuts and a small state'. You can read more in the Observer of 18 December 2022. 

If we take nurses, historically they were women living as single people in the nurses home. Pay was set to be enough to attract women to follow their vocation. The vocation is still present but individual situations have changed. 

Now nurses may be single parents responsible for a family. Historically they may have been married women bringing a second income to a family. Now they may be the main breadwinner, female and male. If they are single and live in rented accommodation, rents have been driven up by the market. 

It is not the job that defines the income need; it is the particular situation of the individual or family unit. It makes no sense to build an employment model in the NHS based on the needs of single parents; equally it is ludicrous to assume that the income merely adds to the family cake. All this is quite separate from any discussion on the comparative worth of different jobs.

As I argued before, the Manufacturing sector provided jobs with pay sufficient for family needs. Most manufacturing jobs has been replaced by lower paid service sector jobs, often not full time. 

Basic pensions and benefits just about provided enough. The energy crisis has driven a coach and horses through that, but, all being well on a temporary basis. Help toward energy by definition leaves space for other help. If that help is not forthcoming, the heating has to be turned off. 

It should not be down to help.  

Tuesday 3 May 2022

Employment and pay

 In 2022, we are facing an economy where there are many low paid jobs, too poorly paid to begin to support a family even if both partners are working.

This contrasts with the 1950s, for example, when employment in manufacturing was high, the mines were still functioning and the railways employed many people. The rates of pay, although not great, were just about sufficient.

In the years in between, manufacturing, mining and railway jobs have reduced dramatically. They have been replaced by jobs in the service industries which are often poorly paid, not full time and insecure.

It is fatuous for politicians to pretend that the old jobs will return. Manufacturing, although buoyant, is no longer a major employer. The mines have closed and, with net zero, will remain closed.

With largely a service based economy, what is the answer? We remain a wealthy nation; we need a mechanism by which that wealth can be shared. 

The image is of a climate change protest in Lincoln in 2019. The question on the placard is every bit as pertinent to this issue. 

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Plastic - friend and foe

When polythene was invented by ICI scientists in the 1930s a big question was its possible use. This was not unlike the earlier invention of the typewriter, where people were highly sceptical about the likely level of demand. With polythene, the invention of  and urgent need to deploy radar came in the nick of time as miles of cable demanded lighter, more flexible insulation. Then came Perspex, perfect for the cockpits of aircraft. The rest, as they say is history. 

We still love plastic, Lego of all sizes but much else besides. We need to fall out of love, just as we are with coal and oil, from which, of course, it is made.

It is shocking that the top twenty manufacturers of polymers (from which plastic comes) are responsible for half of all single use plastic polluting our planet.

We all have to take responsibility but so too do the top manufacturers of single use plastic who have the financial muscle to make a difference.  

Saturday 8 May 2021

Will our behaviour change once it is over?

Before March 2020, the UK economy depended on our passion for spending, buying things and experiences. Could this change, and, if it does, what would be the impact?
Retail was suffering in any event, but will we have kicked our addiction? Zoe Wood asks someone good questions in her piece in the Guardian. 
There is then the evening economy. Can it possibly survive with social distancing? After all, what is the point of a young person going out if they can't be physically near to another? What is the point of spending money on fashionable clothes, if there is no one to see them?
I see it as a sort of money go round. We spend some of our money on essentials; the proportion with depend on income and dependents. The remainder, to the extent there is any, can be spent on things and experiences. Those who sell or provide these, then earn and so the money goes round again. It is an economy that consumes relatively little in the way of raw material; the thing that is bought is mainly added perceived value - so the fashion designer, the marketeer, the shop designer and fitter
The raw material may make up a small proportion of the item, but it is significant in two particular ways. How it is produced: so cotton, often seen as the good guy compared to artificial fibre, demands some 1800 gallons of water for just one pair of jeans, and in a world short of water this is unsustainable. The other part of production is labour, and there are endless accounts of workers being paid derisory wages and having appalling working conditions. 
Change may be happening. The leader in the Guardian of 8 May 2021 speaks of a move to enjoy second hand clothes. 
Britain's industrial revolution was built to a great extent on cotton; can second hand clothes be a part of a second revolution?