Is Labour’s proposed policy of buy, make and sell more in Britain (to boost British exports!) much ado about nothing or potentially harmful to the United Kingdom’s EU and non EU export trade?

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Both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party may be accused of making up trade and industry policy on the hoof in an effort to embrace Brexit and its myriad opportunities.

A Case Study in Buying, Making and Selling More in Britain: Sheffield Forgemasters

We learnt on Wednesday 28th July that the Ministry of Defence is to acquire Sheffield Forgemasters for £2.56 million.

“The intervention will secure Sheffield Forgemasters’ role as a key supplier into the MoD for the long-term”. A practical example of Labour’s proposed policy of buying, making and selling more in Britain.

Rachel Reeves’ big idea and currently a central plank of Labour’s economic strategy for Government.

I confess that I shuddered when I read that Sheffield Forgemasters had “recently announced the purchase of a second hand 13,000 tonne forging press from Japan”.

One would be interested to know why a second hand press was felt to be a better investment than a brand new one. One hopes that the decision was made on more than just price.

I am, on principle, averse to State subsidies for industry. Too often, in the past, they amounted to no more than the taxpayer subsidising poorly run, failing businesses with no definite exit strategy for Government support beyond the possible failure of the beneficiaries.

The world as Mrs Thatcher once put it, although possibly in a slightly different context, does not owe us a living.

The rationale for the MOD buying up Sheffield Forgemasters is to secure defence outputs.

That will be its priority.

However, Sheffield Forgemasters will “continue to operate in commercial markets with” its “existing equipment and will also look to exploit opportunities that may arise from the UK Government’s net zero carbon agenda, including Off-shore Wind projects and the Civil Nuclear market.”

In other words, the MOD’s planned investment of £400m over the next 10 years will be ring fenced for the production of its military orders.

The MOD will be buying, making and selling more in Britain with Sheffield Forgemasters. However, the company will, all other things being equal, find it ever harder to compete for civil contracts at home and abroad, if it may not find the money to invest in new plant dedicated to such work.

If Sheffield Forgemasters must be saved for the nation then surely a better way may be found than by tying the business to the apron strings of the MOD and the vagaries of UK Government defence spending?

Strategic Industries

We are hearing a lot at the moment about strategic industries from the Opposition, particularly a rehabilitated Ed Miliband, as well as from the Government.

Steel is a strategic industry. We must secure our steel industry, because we may not trust the Johnny Foreigners of the developed world to supply us with steel to order for, say, building ships.

However, we had to trust the French to provide us with the steel for the hulls of the new Dreadnought submarines, because no British company makes the steel required to resist the pressures to be experienced at the depths in which the submarines are to operate.

Hulls that might be crushed like tin cans at such depths are understandably not what the Royal Navy wants in a submarine.

There are, it seems, good commercial grounds, probably limited demand, for British business to not seek to compete with the French supplier of such specialist steel.

We do trust other Johnny Foreigners (mostly of the developing world?) to supply us with the raw materials with which to make steel. We might, I gather, secure at least some of them by strip mining the Cotswolds and the Chilterns.

Steady on, old chap, I hear you cry. Green and pleasant land and all that.

Clearly there will be a limit to how far we are willing to go down the road towards full blown autarky under Labour or the Conservatives.

National Flagship to bought and made in Britain to sell Global Britain to the world

The £200m budgeted for the National Flagship “would be far better spent on paying good annual salaries for a number of years to a team of experienced and capable trade negotiators, who would do far more good for our economy than this vanity project, which will no doubt end up costing far more than £200m anyway.”

We might also use some of that money to beef up the skills and number of staff dedicated to promoting UK trade and industry in our Embassies around the world.

I gather there have been issues in the past with both the competence and capacity of the Diplomatic Service in that line of work.

Labour thought it might be a good idea to spend the money on tackling crime, instead.

Buying, Making and Selling More in Britain

Let us turn now from the specific to the general.

I have said it before and will, I am sure, say it again that Rachel Reeves has a knack for coming up with policy ideas that will meet with the approval of the likes of Daily Mail readers and nostalgic Leave voting pensioners in Claire Ainsley’s focus groups.

Neither group should, however, be left in charge of a whelk stall at the end of a decaying pier, in a fading seaside town, over a half hour lunch break on a dreich Sunday in February.

“The UK spent £290 billion on public procurement in 2020. At about 14% of GDP, this is only likely to keep growing as a result of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. So why not do as Labour says and ensure that more of it goes to British firms?”

The international implications of such a policy are set out below and challenge the contention that Buying, Making and Selling More in Britain would be good for the UK’s export trade.

I have been unable to discover how much the UK Government spends on imported goods and services.

Neither it would seem has Labour or else surely they would be quoting it in support of their big idea?

The lack of a definite figure does rather undermine the importance of such a policy “to build on the Britain of today“.

Procurement at a time of Covid

Labour does reference a National Audit Office report that estimated that between February and July 2020, the UK Government “spent £12.5bn on Personal Protective Equipment, five times as much as it would have cost in normal times, much of which was spent overseas rather than with British suppliers”.

Never mind the quality of the PPE that was purchased, but focus on from whence it came?

“One of the most celebrated tenets of trade policy is the principle of targeting. Roughly speaking, it states that the most effective policy to correct a market failure is one that acts most directly on it. If the policy’s ultimate objective is to create jobs and improve the dynamism of British businesses, there are more direct ways to achieve this. The apparent corruption in some of the UK’s Covid procurement contracts for PPE, for example, would be a good place to start.”

Why Labour’s ‘buy British’ plan is not going to succeed

I imagine that in the first instance National Health Service staff do not care about the geographical location from where their PPE comes as long as it meets, if not exceeds their requirements.

To boldly bully the public sector in the name of transparency

Perhaps Labour hopes to come up with a figure for how much the UK government spends on imports with its plan by passing “a law requiring public bodies to report on how much they are buying from British businesses including SMEs”?

I do see the appeal of such a law to those who think the public sector works best when under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap.

As I say, Reeves knows how to pitch to the tabloids. I am sure they would appreciate easy access to ammunition with which to bully public sector procurement managers.

I do not see why the head of an individual, state funded school should be expected to provide a journalist with detailed information about from where they source their pencils (see below).

Tough love, all stick and no carrot will just demoralise staff and to what end?

We are, of course, only talking about procurement by the public sector. There is no suggestion of a Labour Government urging the private, and voluntary and community sectors to take the pledge and sign up to the policy.

The policy has, though, been endorsed by James Meadway, former adviser to John McDonnell MP when he was Shadow Chancellor.

A ringing, credible endorsement …

Unpicking the High Speed Two supply contracts

HS2 is proving an ever more contentious project and one, I suspect, that may not meet with the approval of many Guardian readers so, perhaps, it was not surprising that this paragraph appeared in the Guardian:

“Labour will also highlight how only one UK-based firm was shortlisted for £2.5bn of contracts for track and tunnel systems of the new HS2 high speed rail network.”

HS2 is going over time and budget so how would trawling through the geographical origin of its supply contracts help matters?

Complicating UK Government procurement processes

Labour’s five proposals to underpin its Buy, Make and Sell More in Britain policy set out here would add to UK Government procurement processes. Whatever else they achieved, they would increase the cost of UK public sector procurement.

The Department for Work and Pensions orders its stationery at business unit level from a centrally appointed supplier.

What would Labour in Government do, if DWP’s supplier, although based in the UK was actually the subsidiary of a foreign owned company?

What would Labour in Government do, if DWP’s supplier, although based and owned in the UK carried an inventory with a significant number of products either imported from abroad or produced in the UK by a foreign owned business?

And what if the inventory contained products made abroad, but by a UK owned firm?

I purchased HP A4 paper from Tesco a couple of years ago. Tesco plc is a British multinational groceries and general merchandise retailer, headquartered in Welwyn Garden City. HP Inc is registered in Palo Alto, California, USA. HP Europe is registered in the Netherlands. The paper originally came from Brazil.

The UK imports goods, services and raw materials to help it produce goods and services for domestic consumption and for exports, both visible and invisible.

If Labour has evidence of sizeable public sector contracts being awarded to companies overseas that are not Value For Money in comparison with the same good or service that might have been purchased from UK based businesses then they should say so and hold a debate on the issue in the House of Commons.

The International Implications of Buying, Making and Selling More in Britain

Peter Ungphakorn, who worked for World Trade Organisation’s Secretariat between 1996 and 2015, has wondered on Twitter, if Labour have looked in detail at the UK’s commitments and obligations under the WTO Government Procurement Agreement.

Ungphakorn has some suggestions as to how Labour might proceed with their policy and the likely implications of the options available to them.

Option One

Make a loud noise about this to win votes, but do not actually do it. Britain would not violate the WTO’s GPA. This is not an original thought. Politicians do it everywhere.

Option Two

Claim this is necessary for national security. Again, this is not an original thought. It comes straight out of the Donald Trump play book. But it does create havoc for the rules-based international trading system.

Option Three

What the hell, let us just ignore our international commitments. Yet another unoriginal thought. In this case it would not distinguish Keir Starmer’s Labour Party from the present UK government of Boris Johnson.

Option Four

Do it in the constraints of UK’s GPA commitments. In other words, not for any of the agencies listed except for small contracts worth less than the thresholds.

These are the commitments.

A 34 page list.

That 34-page list includes almost every central and local government agency. Here are the thresholds in pounds. A school in West Leeds, for example, can insist on UK-made pencils, but only in batches worth less than £189,330.

Option Five

Withdraw from the GPA. This may be done without leaving the WTO. GPA is a stand-alone plurilateral agreement (signed by only some WTO members). However, leaving it means UK companies would lose automatic access to government contracts in present and future signatories.

Leaving the GPA would mean UK businesses losing rights to procurement contracts in Armenia, Canada, Australia, EU, HK, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Rep Korea, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Montenegro, NZ, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore, Taiwan, Ukraine and USA.

In addition, UK businesses would lose rights to procurement contracts with future signatories: Albania, Brazil, China, Georgia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, North Macedonia, Oman, Russian Federation and Tajikistan.

Time for a rethink, Labour?

Additional Observations

Steve Peers, Professor of Human Rights Law, World Trade Law and European Union Law at the University of Essex, pointed out to Peter Ungphakorn that the GPA includes Consultations and Dispute Settlement (Article 20).

Countries may also modify their commitments under Modifications and Rectifications to Coverage (Article 19). Others may withdraw “substantially equivalent commitments”. A blanket policy means withdrawing everything. Other countries would also withdraw all rights from the UK.

Yes Minister

Fans of Jim Hacker will know that the success or failure of his personal initiatives are measured by the degree of positive coverage afforded to them in the media.

Labour would seem to be proposing to put a portion of the UK’s export trade at serious risk for the sake of some approving headlines and column inches as well as the uncritical appreciation of a few focus group members.

And, yet, Rachel Reeves believes that buying, making and selling more in Britain would help UK based businesses export across the world rather than as would seem to be the case helping the companies of other countries.

I think UK businesses would appreciate boring, mundane policy designed to make exporting into the Single Market less difficult than it has become since Boris Johnson’s Hard Brexit came into effect at the start of 2021.

The Hard Brexit which Labour under Keir Starmer freely endorsed.

If only baking economic policy was just about motherhood and apple pie, eh, Labour?

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Trading the orchard for an apple

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s current Shadow Chancellor has set out in a Guardian article, her “five tests to ensure the government is delivering the national economy the British people deserve” post Covid.

Post Covid, but not Brexit.

Brexit does not get a mention in Reeves’ article.

It is a little appreciated fact, seemingly, that businesses of all shapes and sizes have over the last few years spent money they could ill afford on preparing for two No Deal Brexits that never happened and on coping with the pandemic.

As the pandemic eases, the costs of the Hard Brexit to which Johnson signed up and Labour freely endorsed are still rising.

The labour and skill shortages opening up across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom’s economy are directly linked to the end of Freedom of Movement.

Labour seems to be studiously ignoring them, but then to acknowledge them would involve mentioning the B word.

Rest assured Rachel Reeves has five tests against which to assess Johnson’s Covid recovery actions.

Reeves’ tests mostly eschew measures Labour would enact to meet them.

Reeves plans to mark Johnson’s homework and show him where he has gone wrong, but not to provide him (or us) with Labour’s model answers.

There are focus groups and there are focus groups

The quotations in bold and italics that follow are from focus groups run by Claire Ainsley, currently Keir Starmer’s current senior adviser and policy chief.

I think at this moment that I need to make clear that I have no issue in using properly constituted focus groups to provide input into the development of policy and to help find ways to effectively promote settled policy.

I draw the line, however, at using focus groups of the generality of voters to draw up policy. I would have thought that the Brexit referendum had cured anyone of the value of such action.

I do think consulting key stakeholders in a particular policy area is of great value otherwise political parties run the risk of only engaging with the like-minded and hearing what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.

Test One

“… our British industries should thrive. This means an expansion of manufacturing output, jobs and exports, including in high-growth sectors of the future such as green technology and digital services. Labour would do this with our plan to buy, make and sell more in Britain, building the skills and jobs of the future that will help us succeed on the global stage.”

Elderly (Leave voting) folk in focus groups punch the air. After all, the only proper jobs are in manufacturing, are they not?

A woman in Worksop described the kind of economy she would like to see: “They need more companies to be brought in that aren’t just distribution centres so we need incentives, like I talked about an engineering plant, to bring big businesses in that are willing to have their headquarters here, for example.” “

Let me put that prejudice in context for you.

There are, according to the Office for National Statistics, 34,564,000 jobs in the economy as of March 2021.

Of that 34,564,000, some 2,543,000 are in manufacturing on the shop floor, in the offices etc.

That 2,543,000 amounts to 7.4% of all the jobs in the UK.

I imagine those carrying out the other 92.6% of jobs do not, in the vast majority of cases feel they are not proper occupations.

Were Labour to create 1,000,000 new, net jobs in manufacturing without increasing the overall number of jobs in the economy then the total number of jobs in manufacturing would amount to 3,543,000 or 10.25% of all the jobs in the UK.

Creating more jobs in manufacturing, whatever the value of doing so and its appeal to retired Red Wall voters, would not make a blind bit of difference to the vast majority in work in the UK.

The majority of the suite of employment policies outlined by Angela Rayner this week would make a significant difference to many in employment whether or not they work in manufacturing.

Rayner on Labour leadership manoeuvres, again?

Unfortunately, the promotion of those policies was rather undermined by Rayner focusing on proposals to make zero hours contracts illegal, a very minor matter, and the enactment of an automatic right to work from home that would not be practicable for the majority in work, because of the nature of their employment.

Both policies, however, do have great appeal to members of Labour’s leadership electoral college, many of whom are not dissimilar from the profile of the typical Guardian reader.

By the way, Guardian readers, mostly in white collar jobs or retired from them do seem, a goodly number of them, to get a bit of a frisson from the promotion of occupations they think the working class should want to do, but which they do not want for themselves and their own.

Corbyn rather displays this tendency.

A middle class Left version of noblesse oblige and take on what is best for the other ranks.

I will discuss “buy, make and sell more in Britain” in a separate post.

Test Two

“… people should have secure jobs and real choices around work. That means a stable income, growth in occupations that pay well but that you don’t need a degree for, and improved pay and conditions.”

What is not to like about all that?

However, do I detect another focus group prejudice in “occupations that pay well but that you don’t need a degree for”?

“They expressed discontent with the workings of the economy, with jobs that don’t pay enough to achieve a decent standard of living and a national economy they see as far too focused on London. And they bemoaned a lack of opportunities for themselves and their children: apprenticeships that paid too little and led nowhere, and a lack of access to training and good quality vocational education as an alternative to university.”

A National Vocational Qualification Level Four may be deemed the equivalent of a degree. I recall that under the last Labour Government it was decided after Sure Start had been up and running for a while that all Children’s Centre managers, who did not possess a degree appropriate to that job would be assisted to achieve a suitable NVQ4.

Personally, I thought, like one of my friends and colleagues, that far from being unnecessary such a step was a declaration of intent, a mark of how serious the Government took the role of manager.

I have a problem with squaring “growth in occupations that pay well but that you don’t need a degree for” with “building the skills … of the future”.

May be someone will sit Rachel Reeves down and talk her through post 18 provision in education and training?

I remember Yvette Cooper during her 2015 Labour leadership campaign talking of the need to stop treating post 18 vocational education as being of a lesser quality and value than the traditional route to a degree.

That prejudice is partly born of our class system that is never more evident than in education.

“… the promise of investment in adult education is a platitude – who could possibly want adults to be less skilled, less fulfilled, than they could be? – that masks a huge shift in priorities. Further education, known in the political class as what happens to other people’s children, has been underfunded for nearly a decade.”

At last, courageous thinking from Labour on education – Zoe Williams

Corbyn during the 2019 General Election said, “The best is world-leading Further Education, which is so important to working class students.”

“The National Education Service will allow you to pursue your dreams” – Corbyn’s speech

One final thought, is Starmer gearing up to say that there will be fewer places in traditional higher education than there are now under Labour, but not to worry, because his Labour Government will create occupations that will pay well, but for which you do not need a degree?

Will someone explain to these people that a disproportionate number of middle and upper class youth go into higher education in 2021 and that it is, first and foremost, employers not politicians, SpAds, civil servants or focus group members that set the qualifications required to undertake a job?

Test Three

“… everyone should feel the benefits of higher pay and a lower cost of living. We need a reduction in the number of households, children and pensioners in poverty, falling levels of problem debt, and higher wages so that fewer people require in-work benefits.”

” “It shouldn’t be a minimum wage; it should be a living wage,” was a popular refrain to make sure people could make ends meet.” “

Sounds good (and I am with the popular refrain), but I would be interested to know what is meant by “falling levels of problem debt” and “higher wages so that fewer people require in-work benefits.”

Aggregated UK household debt has a tendency to top UK Government debt. Folk who fret about the Government maxing out a credit card it does not have are very relaxed about maxing out their own.

As for “higher wages so that fewer people require in-work benefits”, I would file that under aspirational at a time of rising inflation and a contracting economy.

Just avoided mentioning the B word there!

Test Four

“… no one and nowhere should miss out as the recovery takes shape. No matter where they live or what their background, everyone should be able to benefit from greater opportunities. And yet, despite Boris Johnson’s promises, the economic performance of the highest and lowest regions is forecast to widen over the course of this parliament. That cannot be allowed to happen.”

Of course, you know the major socio-economic problem that dare not speak its name is very much bound up with issues around levelling up and the like. Covid really has not got much to do with it in comparison with the B word.

What was palpable was the anger and frustration at politics, and politicians, over the last three years to address the issues that mattered to them most: a failure to deliver the jobs, investment and opportunities needed so their families and local economies can thrive. These domestic issues are being crowded out by Brexit. People told us the way Brexit is being handled has only increased their feelings of being “let down, ignored and patronised” by a distant political establishment.”

You should not have to leave your home to get a good job is pure Nandyism. Lisa Nandy frets over how young people leave Wigan, her constituency, to study for a degree and never return home. And that, folks, is a bad thing.

Lisa Nandy is originally from Manchester, by the way.

Of course, most young people in Wigan do not go into higher education.

Back in the mid 2000s, Advantage West Midlands, the Regional Development Agency for the West Midlands, got very exercised about graduate retention in the region.

Folk were graduating from higher education institutions in the West Midlands and moving away from the region.

AWM pondered setting a graduate retention target.

Someone, I think it was a colleague of mine, asked if there was any evidence that employers in the West Midlands were finding it especially hard to recruit graduates.

I do not think we heard anything about a target after that question was posed.

I have formed the distinct impression that the reason why Labour has not really gone to town on Johnson’s farcical levelling up strategy is because it has nothing credible to put in its place that would meet with the approval of its Leave voting focus groups.

We do have nearly 100 years in the theory and practice of socio-economic regeneration in the UK context on which to draw when considering future policy, but quite often it runs up against populist ideas of what is necessary to level up, whatever that means this week.

“Despite their anger and frustration, people were brimming with ideas that would improve their lives and towns. From business incentives for those who train people locally, to open learning centres for training, to jobs that offer a chance to get on, and getting a ‘fair share’ of investment from government and business, people gave a clear way forward for our political leaders to address their concerns.”

Voters, sadly, have a tendency to possess an inflated view of what Governments may achieve in a mixed economy.

Governments do not create jobs directly, except as an employer, they may create and maintain the conditions in which jobs are created in the private and voluntary and community sectors.

Test Five

“… the economic recovery must be sustainable. We need real, tangible progress towards our net zero goals, while building stronger, more resilient communities with greater wellbeing and falling rates of loneliness and social isolation.”

Very much motherhood and apple pie.

Cheesed Off

“We have a chance to use this time to boost growth, and to learn the lessons this pandemic has taught us about our economy, our industries and our vital public services, environment and quality of life. A Labour government will do things differently”, but without any reference to the lessons the B word is teaching us.

The B word has caused advisers, funded by the UK Government to recommend to UK based firms concerned about losing sales in the Single Market that they should move some of business their operations into the EU.

The Cheshire Cheese Company, “which had been optimistic about Brexit, is now looking at setting up a hub in France where it would “test the water”.

But it has also scrapped plans to build a new £1m warehouse in Macclesfield employing 20-30 people.

“Instead we might end up employing French workers and paying tax to the EU,” Mr Spurrell said.

“I left the EU as a UK citizen but now they are suggesting I rejoin my company to the EU, so what was Brexit for?” “

Would a future Labour Government seek to prevent a company moving contract work; jobs; business operations or even its head office to a location within the Single Market?

Past UK Governments had to accept that being outside of Europe came with serious costs.

Adapting to life as a business in a third country

Aztec Oils, a specialist lubricant oil company based in Leave voting Bolsover, Derbyshire, the former stomping ground of Left Exit supporting Dennis Skinner MP, is adapting to life as a business in a third country outside of the EU.

“As a result of Brexit, Aztec Oils has set up companies and employed staff overseas: 7 to 8 in Holland and two in Lithuania so far as it adapts to the new normal (many companies have been advised to set up operations overseas by the British government, such is the nature of Brexit).”

Aztec Oils “have also set up a company in Northern Ireland, Aztec Lubricants NI Ltd.”

It is an ill wind that blows no one any good.

The losses caused by Brexit are “not just exported jobs and lost growth but reduced corporate and individual taxes going to government. Skills. Knowledge. The jobs and turnover in company suppliers and service providers. The innovations. The lunches and the after work beers putting money into small businesses locally.”

Both Starmer (and Johnson) do prattle on about creating good, high skilled jobs you would not have to leave home to get.

We are off to Sunny Spain! ¡Viva España!

British telecommunications giant Vodafone is to create 600 new jobs in Malaga, Spain with its new European Research and Development hub.

“The British telecommunications giant had organised an international competition between January and March to decide in which European city it would establish its new R&D centre.

Seven cities from five European countries participated in the contest, and they had to respond to an extensive questionnaire that focused on lifestyle, the availability of talent with the necessary technical skills, working conditions, transport systems, public aid and grants, university connections and the attractiveness of each location to job-seekers.”

The UK outside of the Single Market was not a contender. Why restrict your company to fishing for staff in the pool of labour of one country when you may trawl one made up of 31 countries?

Tory and Labour Economic Policy is incredible

Labour will never have credible economic policies whilst it continues to act like Brexit is not damaging our economy and society greatly and will be doing so for some time to come.

That Brexit, in fact, limits what any UK Government wants to do, bringing into question any ambitious plans set out by either Starmer or Johnson.

How long though before Johnson and Starmer have to address the cold hard fact that their Hard Brexit is causing bins to go unemptied, fruit and veg unpicked, and supermarket shelves unstacked?

There are better ways for the UK Government to spend £200m, plus running costs, on promoting UK trade and industry …

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“I appreciate that it’s not the purpose of your post, but the truth is that this project, if it ever comes to fruition, is the worst kind of Brexit tokenism.

Someone on Twitter has already made the good point that £200m would be far better spent on paying good annual salaries for a number of years to a team of experienced and capable trade negotiators, who would do far more good for our economy than this vanity project, which will no doubt end up costing far more than £200m anyway.

What a strange, bad, place the UK is sailing to!”

Christopher Duggan

“We are talking about a minimum of £200m to build the vessel and, heaven knows, how much for the running costs.

We might use some of that money, alongside what you propose, to beef up the skills and number of staff in our Embassies around the world dedicated to promoting UK trade and industry.

I gather there have been issues in the past with both the competence and capacity of the Diplomatic Service in that line of work.”

John Turner

Good point.

Christopher Duggan

Five glaring issues about the announcement of the ‘new national flagship’ prestige procurement

Is there a business case in existence for the announced ‘National Flagship’?

Jeff Bezos’s New Superyacht Heralds Roaring Market for Big Boats

Price tag for new flagship royal yacht could hit £250m

“Boris, darling, I’m just off to Kenya to drop off some elephants in the bush. Do you want me to get anything for you while I’m out?”

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“I recommend that we set up an interdepartmental committee with fairly broad terms of reference so that at the end of the day we’ll be in the position to think through the various implications and arrive at a decision based on long-term considerations rather than rush prematurely into precipitate and possibly ill-conceived action which might well have unforeseen repercussions.”

Yes Minister: Doing the Honours

Sir Humphrey would be aghast at recent developments in Whitehall, in particular the lack of co-ordination by civil servants, but not I imagine surprised at, from his perspective, the usual chaotic behaviour of politicians at Westminster.

Episodes of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister are, as those who take a keen interest in the series know, invariably rooted in fact and even, in some cases, are actually based on real events.

A recent development in Government not anticipated by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, but which I am sure they would have exploited, if writing for the BBC today, is the establishment of an Office of the First Lady at the heart of Government.

The recent ramblings of Dominic Cummings have to some extent only told us what we already knew about Boris Johnson’s style of government, but he has at least added to the evidence of that subject provided by others.  Although, there are some who would deny him even that credit.

His love and latterly hate relationship with Carrie Symonds, now the third Mrs Johnson is, however, rather lacking in corroboration.  Moreover, there is an understandable view that Mrs Johnson should not be held responsible for the actions of her husband.

Notwithstanding the above, Mrs Johnson is not some innocent hayseed who has blown into Number Ten and the arms of her beloved.  She is a player in the Tory Establishment with a direct line to, none other than the Political Editor of The Sun, Harry Cole, an ex-boyfriend.

What other previous Prime Minister has had the date of his wedding (or similar significant event) advertised to the globe in a front page world exclusive in The Sun?  Admittedly, the announcement was followed a week later by the marriage of Ms Symonds to Mr Johnson, fourteen or so months before the date trumpeted by The Sun.

There was a time when such events were announced by the quality, discreetly, through a personal advertisement in The London Times.

In another exclusive on Tuesday 5th July, a comment piece in The Sun, penned by Carrie Johnson and Damian Aspinall and written in the third person, explained why they were flying elephants from Kent to Kenya.

“Director of communications for the (Aspinall Foundation) conservation group is eco-campaigner and Prime Minister’s wife Carrie Johnson – and today she is speaking out publicly for the first time since marrying Boris in May.”

The Aspinall Foundation, planned, the duo said, to transport a total of thirteen elephants, weighing 25 tonnes, more than 4,000 miles on a Boeing 747 to a secret location in Kenya in a “ground-breaking step for this country (one assumes the United Kingdom, given a later revelation) and the conservation movement”.  

Fans of Jim Hacker will know that the success or failure of his personal initiatives are measured in column inches.

The Sun exclusive, first timed on their website at 22:00 on 5th July was reported in a detailed article on the Daily Mail website, first timed at 02:08 on 6th July.  And that article spoke of Damian Aspinall speaking on the record to The Daily Telegraph and a certain Angela Sheldrick, Chief Executive Officer of the Sheldrick Trust, telling The Guardian about the project.

Hacker would have been cock a hoop with such a publicity machine.

Then came the bucket of cold water.

On Wednesday 7th July, the Office of Public Communication of the Kenyan Government’s Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife put out a terse press release, clearly written in some haste, under the heading of “Purported Relocation of 13 Elephants From Kent Wildlife Park, UK, to Kenya”:

“The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife noted with concern an article published in the Daily Mail, UK, stating that a herd of 13 elephants will be relocated from Kent Wildlife Park in the UK to Kenya in what is referred to as a “wild (sic) first rewilding project” by the publication.

The Ministry wants to state that neither them nor the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) have been contacted or consulted on this matter.

Relocation and rehabilitation of an animal from a zoo is not easy and is an expensive affair.”

This aspect of the story got wide coverage in the world’s media.

The Daily Mail report of the Kenyan response spoke of previous meetings, discussions etc undertaken by the Aspinall Foundation with the Kenyan authorities, although no claim that a definite plan had been agreed.

The original Daily Mail report had, however, said that the Foundation’s project was actually being run with the KWS and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

One wonders how much oil had to be poured on troubled waters over this incident by the UK’s Ambassador to Kenya.

A task unlikely, one imagines, to have been assisted by Mr Johnson’s outspoken views on Africa; its people; its Governments and, in particular, the Kenyan ancestry of a former President of the United States.

The Aspinalls themselves have a colourful past, linked to the sort of chaps who used to run the Empire and for whom the rules and conventions of society are more like suggestions than anything else.

Sound familiar?

In March this year, against a background of some disquiet in the Kenyan Parliament, members of that Parliament ratified a Kenya United Kingdom Economic Partnership Agreement.  The Kenyan Parliament had a veto over the agreement, unlike their counterparts in the UK Parliament.

The Agreement is, however, subject to challenge in the Nairobi High Court.  The case there may drag on for months, delaying progress in taking advantage of the agreement.

The UK Government entertains hopes of extending the agreement to other East African Community states.  Kenya being one of the six countries making up the EAC.  The others being Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Progress in Kenya will, therefore, be watched closely in neighbouring countries.

How one wonders will they have regarded the high handedness of the third Mrs Johnson in seeking to plonk thirteen elephants down in the Kenyan bush without the by your leave of the Kenyan Government?

Former colonial masters getting high on their Global Britain fantasies?

More pertinently, what advice did the Prime Minister receive, assuming he sought any, about the advisability of his wife being associated with this scheme, given the sensitive nature of UK Kenyan diplomatic relations?

Moreover, given that Mrs Johnson’s skills in media communications are not that great they would have benefited from significant assistance from a third party, for example, the Whitehall communications machine, paid for by the UK taxpayer, and/or her loving husband with his little black book, containing the telephone numbers of the editors of national newspapers.

“Amid chaos in Downing Street ahead of England’s first coronavirus lockdown, Boris Johnson’s fiancée went “completely crackers” about press coverage of their dog, Dominic Cummings has claimed.

On 12th March 2020, as officials scrambled to devise a strategy for fighting Covid-19 and held top-level meetings about potential military action in the Middle East, Carrie Symonds’ focus was allegedly captured by a story in The Times about her pet Dilyn.

The story in question, published a day earlier, carried claims the couple planned to have Dilyn re-homed once their baby was born because they had “grown weary” of it. Ms Symonds responded angrily that the suggestion was “total crap”.

Mr Cummings claimed in an explosive evidence session with MPs on Wednesday that Ms Symonds demanded the press office “deal with” the coverage even as ministers and national security officials tried to juggle the looming health crisis with demands by Donald Trump’s White House for joint bombing raids in Iraq.”

Carrie Symonds went “completely crackers”

Dilyn is so important in the eyes of the Editor of The Tatler that he takes pride of place in a recent pictorial run down of the Court of Carrie Johnson wherein he is described as “the most beloved member of Carrie’s crew”.

Curly haired tot, Wilfred Johnson is not pictured or even referenced.

The current Government may with impunity set aside the domestic checks and balances of our Unwritten Constitution and ignore long recognised conventions of government with seemingly little serious fear of repercussions to itself.  However, in the world beyond our shores, even the innocent hobbies of a Prime Minister’s spouse may cause serious problems for the UK’s diplomatic relations and its trade.

Odds on, they do not need us more than we need them and they do not, in the case of our former imperial possessions, think they would be better off, if they were still governed by the British.

Uxorem Caesaris tam suspicione quam crimine carere oportet.

Who, though, is going to tell Mrs Johnson (and to whom is she accountable)?

Latest News:

Carrie Johnson’s elephants in the room

Has it come to this? My agreeing with Baroness Thatcher (over Nissan)?

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Baroness Thatcher would have been appalled. She would want to know why a Tory Government, yes, a Tory Government, of self proclaimed free marketeers was writing out a blank cheque in the name of the UK taxpayer to give to a successful, profitable Nippon car company and a Chinese Communist Party owned firm.

My politics are centre left, but I have Thatcherite tendencies when it comes to State subsidies for failing, poorly managed private sector businesses and even more so when it comes to giving a blank cheque drawn on the United Kingdom taxpayer’s account to a successful, profitable company like Nissan and its partner in crime, Envision, a company ultimately owned by the Chinese Communist Party.

Incidentally, it is supposed to be the policy of the Government of the United Kingdom to reduce our economic dependence on the People’s Republic of China.

“The plant can be expanded to 35 GW with £1.8 billion of investment by the Chinese battery company, a statement said.”

Electric Vehicle batteries are weight gaining products. The components are relatively light and easy to transport, but the finished battery is neither. It makes sense to manufacture EV batteries close to where they are needed. Nissan only has one car plant of its own in Western Europe, the one in Sunderland.

Video on Twitter link

Nissan is not turning its Sunderland car plant into a battery plant. There is already a battery plant next door. 80% of which has been sold off to Chinese Envision. Nissan are now “in talks” with the UK government on getting tens of millions of pounds of UK taxpayer funded support to tart up and expand this existing plant. A plant in which another foreign company has already been happy to buy an 80% stake.

That Chinese EV battery maker, Envision is to build a $2.4bn plant in France for Renault with the aim of reaching 9 Gigawatt hours by 2024 and 24GWh by 2030.

Renault has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with French start up, Verkor for batteries. Renault is looking to build 1,000,000 EVs per year by 2030.

Envision’s investment for its Sunderland plant is £450m with an aim of reaching 9GWh (the equivalent of 100,000 cars) and then “if demand for Nissan’s EVs rises sharply” it may invest a further £1.8bn to expand capacity to 25GWh.

In order to switch to EV production in Europe, Nissan needs access to a local supply of batteries for the cars it plans to produce.

Let us now talk about jobs!

This reads like a transcribed press release.

Nissan may directly create 900 new jobs is what it really says. It may also indirectly create 4,500 jobs in its supply chain, but not necessarily all of those jobs would be in the UK.

Given that Nissan already has a supply chain for its Sunderland plant, how many jobs in that chain, not all of which will be in the UK, will be destroyed as it switches over to EV production?

The number that would be destroyed needs to be deducted from the number that might be created (and not all of those jobs will be in the same companies) before one might say with confidence that any new jobs will actually be created in the supply chain in both the UK and abroad.

The article refers to the creation of 6,200 jobs in total.

900 plus 4,500 equals 5,400, leaving 800. These 800 new (?) jobs will it seems be created by Envision in partnership with Nissan as they invest in their existing EV battery plant. One might ask why they have not been added to the 4,500 as they are definitely part of Nissan’s supply chain.

But that way, madness lies.

Jobs safeguarded are not to sniffed at, but they are not on a par with a net creation of jobs.

Will the Government’s investment in Nissan and Envision’s partnership yield such a net creation?

There is no saying that the 900 new jobs that may be created will not go to existing staff. Arguably, the whole of the Government’s blank cheque may prove to have been for a safeguarding operation.

Oh, and somewhere within the figures being quoted for jobs created there may be the weeks of construction required for the battery plant masquerading as permanent employment.

When appraising a capital project for funding it is normal to set aside the number of weeks of work required for construction that amount to temporary full and part time employment as well as any staff appointed to look after the structure on completion. Those jobs being integral to the delivery of the project and not outputs of it.

Net job losses!

Nissan has shed 1,500 jobs at its Sunderland plant since 2016. The 900 jobs that might be created by the promised new electric model do not make up for the jobs already lost.

The bins!

The end of Freedom of Movement has, however, seen increasing labour and skill shortages across the economy, even bin collections are starting to be affected.

Personally, I think pensioners in Sunderland who voted Leave in 2016 and said, damn the torpedoes as far as Brexit and the economy are concerned, will be more interested in 2021 that their bins are emptied regularly and timeously than in almost anything else.

There is no guarantee that Nissan may not seek easements of Home Office rules to fill any positions they feel they may not be able to fill with UK applicants.

Would Priti Patel loosen her corset in such a scenario and ease her prejudices against (im)migrant workers?

More job losses!

Honda will close its Swindon car plant, directly employing 3,000 folk, this month, July 2021. The Japanese owned part of Honda’s supply chain in the UK will make another 6,000 unemployed. Many of those companies are also closing their UK operations this month.

The UK has now lost its top spot as the host of Japanese automotive manufacturers to Germany, with France and the Czech Republic coming up fast on the rails.

519 jobs at GKN Automotive’s plant in Erdington, Birmingham, are to go by the summer of 2022. The work transferred to a plant within the EU.

Unite “said it and its members were “highly dismayed” initial government promises of support to ensure that the factory remains open and is able to play a key role in the electrification of the UK’s automotive industry, have “so far amounted to nothing”.”

GKN Erdington is just around the road from JLR Jaguar, Castle Bromwich. All Land Rover production was transferred from Solihull to a JLR plant in Slovakia a few years ago, now. Jaguar Castle Bromwich is soon to cease producing cars, according to JLR.

The JLR plant in Slovakia has the space to take the Jaguar track from Castle Bromwich.

Border checks!

We do not know how bad things will get with regards to Nissan importing goods and services when the UK finally puts in place checks at its borders to mirror those of the EU.

We do know that Toyota Burnaston’s Just in Time model “is finely tuned, with components arriving every 37 minutes from suppliers in both the UK and the EU. Lorries that supply the plant contain a collection of different components, not a single job lot of brake parts, for instance. That’s because every car is, in effect, built to order. Customers, including dealers, will select the body style, the engine type and size, the colour, the options, making hundreds of variables.”

We do know “the story behind the crankshaft used in the BMW Mini, which crosses the Channel three times in a 2,000-mile journey before the finished car rolls off the production line.”

We also know that our much vaunted trade agreement with Japan has made it cheaper for UK companies to import automotive parts from Japan. Moreover, manufacturing businesses that are inside one of the much talked about Freeports can benefit from cheaper imported inputs and components in comparison to those outside the area.

Blank cheque?

Nissan Sunderland, a leaky flagship of Global Britain’s post Brexit buccaneering ambitions is too big a vessel to be allowed to sink. The UK Government will struggle with might and main to keep it afloat. A prospectus that does not bode well for other EV ventures in the shipyards, the keels for which have not even been laid.

Never forget that Soapy Sunak, the conman hidden in plain sight, has decided to become a cheeseparing 19th Century Chancellor of the Exchequer.

He wants to balance the books.

Dicken’s Fat Boy from Pickwick Papers only wanted to make your flesh creep.

Acknowledgement

A particular acknowledgement to Pernille Rudlin of Rudlin Consulting.

Further reading

How Margaret Thatcher Brought Nissan To The UK

Faraday Briefing, Brexit and Batteries: Rules of Origin

Ministers condemned for hiding £61m aid package for Nissan to build new cars in UK after Brexit

Disgusted of the Royal Borough of Tunbridge Wells shares her woes and refuse contract with Tonbridge