Performance of the Economy

What of our strengths?

Some of these I have indicated at the beginning of this essay – our huge overseas investments, our large number of major corporations. Our chief strengths however lie in our compact geography, our tremendous range of scientific and cultural institutions, and above all in the vast global network of contacts whose method of communication is the English language. Central to this network are the Commonwealth and the United States of America, in both of which the legal systems are similar to ours (and distinct from the Continent’s) because in the last analysis they are derived from this country. But our global network is not confined to the countries of the former British Empire. Standing in the queue for passport checking at Tokyo’s Narita Airport I overheard the Japanese Immigration Officer query, in English, a Chinese doctor’s visa – and the Chinese visitor’s reply was in English. Truly the English language can play the same role for our adventurous young people in the reign of Elizabeth II as the sea played in the reign of Elizabeth I – it is the gateway to the world. A particular signpost to the future is, according to a Foreign Office estimate, the fact that 80% of the internet is conducted in English and 75% of the world’s overseas mail is written in English. Another indication is the fact that fourteen countries of the Pacific Rim have recently established a forum (APEC) for advancing their industrial trading interests using English as their common language.

Opportunities

To take advantage of these national assets we need a national goal to expand our manufacturing industry to about the same proportion in our economy as it is in Germany, i.e. to expand it by about one-third from around a current 22% to about 30%. This will require a doubling of our current inadequate rate of investment in manufacturing, but this still represents an increase of only about £500 per family per annum, which is much less than the former (West) Germany is currently paying to the former (East) Germany to bring it up to West German standards. This increase, most of which will be in medium sized enterprises, would give a direct employment increase of about three quarters of a million people (especially young men) with about the same number of service sector jobs following on. With other knock-on effects, it would effectively solve our chronic unemployment problem, eliminate our balance of payments deficit and restore our national self-respect. It would also help to move employment on to more secure foundations for individuals at both the beginning and end of their working lives. To achieve this change will require the dedicated attention of the leaders of all branches of our nation – finance, industry, government and universities. The concept of a national goal of this kind would I believe be as inspiring to the British people in lifting them from the moral defeat they have laboured under for 40 years, as a very similar goal lifted the German and Japanese peoples in the aftermath of their physical defeat in 1945.

Selling what we make

We can only go on making what we can sell. And here we have two tremendous opportunities. The very extent of import penetration of our markets (more than 50% on average) means that the biggest new market for our goods is right here in Britain. While we all know that the Continental market is important to Britain, it is of declining importance, because of the static populations and consequent low growth rates. The real growth opportunity for Britain lies precisely in the global network described recently in the Times by William Rees-Mogg Ref 6 and indicated on the front cover. But what markets like Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, with India not far behind, need and will pay for, are tangible goods – above all machinery and capital equipment – precisely the hi-tech things we sell little of to the EU and which need, therefore, to be the focus of the industrial expansion I call for. Even just to recover a position (Table 6) we had as recently as 1969 in non-European overseas markets, would be a useful target with real benefits to our industries amounting to about £6Bn in exports or about 100,000 jobs.

  1969 (%) 1995 (%)
Canada (excl USA) 22 8.2
Australia 24 6.0
South Africa 29 12
New Zealand 30 5.7
India 10 6
Japan 2.2 2.4
USA 6.3 5.2

Table 6: Market shares taken by British exports in 1969 and 1995

British industry has simply allowed most of these markets to be taken away from them, in several cases by Germany, France and Italy.

« previous page next page »

Top| Home