Are UK (and NI) cultural attitudes the biggest block to regaining long term competitiveness?

Good to see Mark Langhammer back in the public domain a bit more regularly these days… Former Newtownabbey Labour councillor asks some good questions in the Newsletter today… Not least whether with all this talk of moving from austerity to growth whether industry is any fit state to take advantage of any growth agenda the UK government might pursue?

The UK has slipped quickly from the sixth to the 10th largest global manufacturer. The 25 per cent devaluation in sterling improved exports of domestic products like whiskey, farmed salmon and agricultural produce, but the annual trade deficit still runs close to £100 billion.

The dumb simplification of “costly” manufacturing compared to “unsubsidised” finance, core economic policy for decades, now stands truly exposed. Yet, despite acceptance that financial services are propped up by soft taxpayer guarantees, the mediaeval dogma of “markets” still trumps. This dogma makes Britain unique, and unlikely to meet the challenges of unemployment and current trade deficits.

Among the causes of the UK’s decline, more than three decades of indifference to manufacturing must be high on the list. Likewise the wanton destruction of continuity in agencies essential for economic performance.

That’s a trap the Germans certainly haven’t fallen into… But in the UK where the quarter is the key period for determining economic success or failure, Langhammer argues that…

cultural attitudes undermining UK enterprises are various, but the most disastrous are flexible labour markets, untrammelled, unstrategic competition and shareholder value. Flexible labour undermines long term skill development, period. Public equity shareholders contribute little or nothing to the business. Arms length competitive bidding, an unquestioned UK default position, has been pushed to absurd lengths to the detriment of maintaining strategic capacity in many industrial sectors. This was recently illustrated by the loss of the Thameslink contract by the Derbyshire Bombardier plant, the last train manufacturer in the UK.

And finally…

Learning from successful industrial cultures, evolving and sustaining high value-added, competitive products requires an institutional structure that stresses continuity of investment matching global competitors. In turn, a priority on “tradable value-added” demands protection of viable strands of domestic inputs. Our prevailing corporate ethos simply does not do this.

In short, the current UK dilemma is, “how far over the hill do you have to go, before realising that you have to catch up?”


Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty