My former colleague Faisal Islam has got quite a scoop; an interview with the boss of Unipart, who says that he may have to move some investment to the USA or the EU due to the subsidies that they are willing to offer his company.
Unipart is a giant component supplier and logistical company, which is a crucial part of British manufacturing industry and especially the car industry but its boss John Neil now says UK companies are not competing on “a level playing field”.
The industry’s big problem is that the Biden administration is throwing hundreds of billions of dollars to help change its industrial base and turn towards producing semiconductors, green energy, and electric vehicles. All the signs are that the EU is going to follow suit.
Meanwhile, the British government has yet to publish a strategy – apparently, it needs to wait and see what Brussels does first before deciding what to do.
Let’s face it, the UK is a bit-part player in many of these industries and now it is a bit-part player caught between two giants. The car industry in the UK seems to be in terminal decline. While the EU right on our doorstep is rapidly expanding its vehicle battery capacity, the UK let BritishVolt go to the wall with hardly a whimper.
While the USA is introducing what Mr Neil calls a “completely game-changing set of incentives and fiscal support” the UK is having a good hard think about whether to publish a plan, let alone whether to put any money on the table.
The government is, of course, fighting with one hand tied behind its back, as many of its own members seem to think that any industrial strategy is just “picking winners” and that the market should be allowed to decide, on its own, what products and sectors to invest in.
This is part of the Lord Frost and Jacob Rees-Mogg agenda which I wrote about only earlier this week.
The consequence of that blind adherence to free market economics is that firms like Unipart – which insists that it is committed to Britain and many others will go to where the grass is greener.
You cannot expect whole industries to change direction almost overnight without helping them, you cannot expect them to stay in your country when much larger and more prosperous economies are offering to lay out the red carpet for them and you cannot hope to secure the industries of the future with a shrug of the shoulders and the occasional White Paper.
But for Brexit, the UK would be part of the EU’s response to the USA’s huge change of course, it would be able to coordinate research and development, attract a fair share of money for its car industry, have seamless access to a huge domestic market and even lead the European fightback.
But it can’t. It does not even have a plan except to threaten to tear up the EU regulatory framework that it spent 40 years developing, which industry wants to keep and which it now wants to destroy out of sheer spite.
As John Neil told the BBC: “For us to invest we need to understand what Britain’s strategy is and what our regulatory framework is going to be. And we’re not clear about any of that.”
He added that Neill said while “it goes against the grain… we want to invest in Britain”, subsidies in the US and Europe have led Unipart to consider its future investment strategies abroad.
The UK does not have the money or even the political will to respond and seems intent on making things worse for industry not better.
It is out in the cold and it is getting colder.