Comments: State of The Nation

"We have a long and proud history in creative-based industries, manufacturing and engineering. It's not too late to get it back."

My work for a US multinational involves setting up IT services globally, competing against the likes of Tech Mahindra and Tata Consulting Services, as well as Fujitsu, HP etc. Even if we ignore the changes to education which largely shape our current workforce and the track record of a certain Mr Gove in that respect, I have to tell you one thing.

It is too late. Nothing to do with Europe, everything to do with the world.

Yes, we have specialist manufacturing and engineering that is world class but has a limited market, even if exports are boosted by the fall of the pound, even if our education system magically alters and starts to develop the talent that's needed.

Posted by Ham on 28 June, 2016 at 8:11 AM

If Gove becomes PM then I am emigrating.

And yes, the India/China rise has long been predicted on here: oh look, 2003 (sorry the archives are only accessible to me, and only through the CMS - Witches run on old technology).

Don't start Mr BW - who sat on the Regional Skills Board until he 'retired' last year - on training the wrong people in the wrong things, please...

Posted by Blue Witch on 28 June, 2016 at 8:26 AM

It is an uphill struggle to build high tech manufacturing. But this is one area where Germany has got it right.

Strangely exiting the EU can actually be a help here.

In the skills board we had a repeated issue raised by high tech firms that they could not bring in skilled employees from outside the EU because the govt was so determined to keep the overall immigration level down.

They couldn't stop people from the EU so they made it very difficult from anyone from outside.

The company I worked for was developing a new product line and wanted to bring in a skilled engineer from our prime competitor in the US. It took 18 months, including MP intervention, to prove that his unique skills were not available anywhere else in the EU.

Finally, with the necessary paperwork ready, his wife announced that she was pregnant and now was no longer the right time to move continents. We lost out big time, UK high manufacturing lost out on a new product line that would have been the only source outside of the US, and there are many countries who would do anything to source from outside the US.

With a level playing field, the skilled manufacturing manager\engineer\scientist from US\China\Russia will now be ahead of a cleaner from Portugal in the immigration queue and that must be good.

Posted by Mr BW on 28 June, 2016 at 8:58 AM

So, how is "It's not too late to get it back" anything other than a nice aspiration?

How can we do it without education? How does our education system support this, and how is the direction of our system in any way pointing that way? What changes will happen to swing policy away from the politically motivated cant we have had for many years? Those aren't rhetorical, I'm assuming you may have an informed perspective.

Of course the spectre of That Nice Mr Gove becoming PM was brought closer by each and every exit vote. Just sayin'

Interestingly, India and China are becoming less significant as globalisation really kicks in. Europe (the likes of Romania, Poland) is becoming a significant resource centre due to quality of staff and ability to more easily service European companies; globally Philippines, Taiwan, Korea and the like are in the ascendant. ZA and SA may well be in the running, too, if they can get their shit together.

Posted by Ham on 28 June, 2016 at 9:10 AM

MrBW, so the problem was that the government was under intense political pressure to keep immigration down to stop their own party from imploding, and the answer is to leave the EU ;) ?

What I think your issue highlights is the problem in trying to balance the concerns of people over the quantity of immigration with the needs of supporting a modern day society which, frankly, needs the cleaners and fruit pickers as much as the engineers.

We "land" people all the time from all manner of countries, it saves having to employ staff in high wage countries and provides instant skills versed in the corporate methods. If the new regime makes it easier it will mean less English jobs, for sure, as far as we are concerned. (We don't like employing people anyhow)

Posted by Ham on 28 June, 2016 at 9:27 AM

Ah, but, aren't you rather too focused on the bottom line Ham? But, those GDP world ranking of economy charts I linked yesterday bear out what you are saying.

Don't under-estimate how the money being earnt from/in our economy, by migrant workers from many of those poorer countries you mention, is contributing to their rise. While those migrant workers are sending every penny they can back home, it's depriving our economy of the natural cycle of disposable income. Not enough attention is being paid to that (I guess for fear that it would further fuel the unrest from the 'displaced workers' from this country).

And education - *deep sigh* - let's not forget where the Academy programme started (ah yes, a Labour idea).

But I am shocked (beyond shocked) by how many of those teachers who used to believe in education as a common good and right have sold out to the offer of a financial bonus from the Academy CEO (rarely an educationalist) if they do x or y which previously they'd have gone on strike for a year to avoid doing. No teacher dares challenge/defy their superior (on professional grounds) these days - get a 'bad' performance review and you're on your way out. Education used to thrive on teachers with different perspectives, driving professional debate. Nowadays, in most schools, there is only one view allowed.

Everyone has their price. Almost everyone I know who deplores the direct link between education and money has now got out. Teachers aren't valued any more - by anyone.

I could make a list of turning points in education... but I think it would be too depressing. In a world where young children are judged at every opportunity: by tests, by peer juries via (un)social media, by what the parents can contribute to the school, and where education is seen as providing economic units/drones, rather than being primarily part of a socialisation process, something has to change or we just get more of the same.

If you apply the metrics and management styles and practices of the business world to education there is only one way it goes. I'm not surprised by the rise in home-schooling, but I'm unconvinced that it's in the best interests of anyone in the long term.

Oh, and, amidst all the current nonsense from north of the border - let's not forget that it was the votes of Scottish MPs who brought in tuition fees for English students. Yes, let's have another referendum, but let's make it an English one: do we want to keep Scotland? (the word 'keep' being used advisedly, given the ongong existence of the Barnett formula).

Posted by Blue Witch on 28 June, 2016 at 9:48 AM

..."a modern day society which, frankly, needs the cleaners and fruit pickers as much as the engineers."

In days of old, people were happy to do those jobs. They are now seen as 'jobs for the immigrants' - and, in many areas, jobs that employers will only *give* to immigrants, effectively putting the locals who once happily did them out of work. Makes them angry, that.

A Discounter (not Aldi) near us has a Polish manager. He briefs staff in Polish (including on the shop floor in front of customers). Will an English Y10 student (with prior successful retail experience) be given a part-time job when she applies? Erm no, she isn't fluent in Polish. True story - grand-daughter of one of my crafty ladies.

A cleaning company servicing a local Academy 'family' - teams working in each school are composed of nationals of just one country (none of them first language English), largely recruited abroad. They claim, "It makes communication easier!" If I ran a company and only employed English people, I would be in court.

Is it any wonder 62% of people round here voted Leave? I'm sure it's the same in many areas in the East of England where immigrants from Eastern Europe have come in faster than communities can comfortably assimilate them (back to my 'see Haralambos textbook' for the theory here).

Not what swayed my/our votes, but we've opted out of the rat race.

For people who see others taking their jobs, they don't necessarily look beyond the obvious for the deeper reasons.

I don't think that people who live in multi-cultural metropolitan areas can understand the changes that have occurred, and the speed at which they have occurred, in more rural, once-homogenous, areas. Given that the media is driven by the city/City, I am unsurprised that there has been such a lack of understanding of why Leave happened.

Posted by Blue Witch on 28 June, 2016 at 10:14 AM

Too focussed on the bottom line when describing the forces that shape employment in the world? I don't think so, I don't think that is possible.

Yes, there is a place for localisation and quality, the trick is identifying the value and applying only as and where required.

Posted by Ham on 28 June, 2016 at 10:37 AM

If you only ever apply fiscal policies, then you will only ever get exactly what we have got now.

Which brings me back to the story of the Greek fisherman (which, for those who don't know it ...):

A boat docked in a tiny Greek village. An American tourist complimented the Greek fisherman who was resting in his boat on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

“Not very long,” answered the Fisherman.

“Then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American.

The Fisherman explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings I go into the village to see my friends, dance a little, drink a bit, and sing a few songs. I have a full life.” Said the Fisherman

The American interrupted, “I am a businessman and have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you. You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch and with the revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.

“What do I do then” asked the Fisherman?

“With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant” answered the Businessman.

“What do I do then” asked the Fisherman?

“You can then leave this little village and move to Athens, London or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge enterprise.”

“How long would that take?” asked the Fisherman.

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the Businessman.

“And then what happens then?” asked the Fisherman

“That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the Businessman, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?” asked the Fisherman

“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your grandchildren, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife, and spend your evenings singing, dancing, playing and drinking with your friends…”

“Which is exactly what I do already” replied the Fisherman.

Posted by Blue Witch on 28 June, 2016 at 12:03 PM

Nice to see you back BW. I agree about getting involved. I campaigned for remain and was a polling agent for them. And I know there were very well informed and thoughtful Leave voters. There was also the man who turned up at the polling station announcing that he was voting Leave because a Newsagent had refused his Scottish pound note..........I'm sure I will be involved again, but right now I feel really sad. I realise I'm seeing it from a very different perspective. The bits of the country that voted remain are the least disenfranchised bits of it. I know parts of England have suffered in ways that Scotland largely hasn't recently. And I can see why people feel betrayed and voted leave as a result. But I still think that the side that won was the one with the most effective liars (there were liars on both sides).

Posted by agaless etc on 28 June, 2016 at 11:37 PM

I strongly suspect that if there was an English Parliament this wouldn't have happened Agaless. People who feel disenfranchised and overlooked rise up eventually.

And, I think it's only just starting. The numbers of new houses being forced on suburban areas and countryside by the government is scary. The Local Plan process (which outlines development principles in each local authority for around 15 years) is still going through in most areas of England... many people are currently blissfully unaware of what is about to arrive in their communities (despite the attempts of their town and parish councils to inform and engage them in the process). And what the governmint are sneakily doing behind this process (eg planning new towns on greenfield sites on prime agricultural land).

The basic problem is, as I've long said, that there are too many people. Doesn't matter who they are, or where they come from, there are simply too many.

Posted by Blue Witch on 29 June, 2016 at 7:19 AM

BW, your belief that there are "too many people" has been consistent, I fully appreciate that is nothing to do with racism. But you are wrong.

You are assuming there is some right number for people in the country, if I asked you what that number is I'm sure you would say, "I don't know, but I know there are now too many" and proceed to justify that statement quite coherently and persuasively.

What is fundamentally wrong is that you cannot have statis; as a society we rise or we fall. Population growth is one facet - and an integral one - to our progress which most people find appealing. There are those that want to opt out - almost all only up to a point. That point is where, for example, society's advancement helps extend their life.

Society can and does operate in far more crowded conditions, personally I don't actually care for it, but it is part and parcel of living. Trying to turn the clock back to some ideal point in development makes no sense to me and is meaningless in the sweep of history.

Let's ignore that for the moment, and look at the effect of an EU exit on immigration - do you really think there is going to be one, aside from re-prioritising? If there is a points system introduced, that will (we are told, so I believe ;) ) lead to higher numbers. (Although clearly tanking the country's economy will make us less appealing as an economic destination)

And the cack-handed management and planning you say yourself is the fault of our own local and national administration, so an EU exit will do nothing for that.

One of the #ThingsThatAreWellBrexit Twitter comments was "Wanting to take our country back - coz taking our country forward is well scary", although the most pointed one is The problem isn't the EU, the problem is our governance. I'll admit that the Brexit vote will shake that up, but unless there is a plan or at least a path to something better, all it is is anarchy.

So, you're a bit of a anarchist on the quiet, eh? Joyce Grenfell should have the last word

Posted by Ham on 29 June, 2016 at 8:36 AM

Ham - there *are* too many people in the world. The earth cannot physically feed them all for much longer (hence the research on farming insect protein etc etc). Please go and do some research. I really wish my archives were working as I have lots of great links in old posts, but, I'm not up to searching for them right now.

I do think that this perfectly demonstrates my 'town mouse and country mouse' conceptualisation of the current situation though. At its most crass - ask a city kid where his food comes from and he will say [insert supermarket of choice]. Ask a country kid and he will tell you exactly.

We already import a huge proportion of our food in this country. To keep building on prime agricultural land in this country is utterly unsustainable.

Posted by Blue Witch on 29 June, 2016 at 5:33 PM

I'm not sure if there are already too many people in the world but if not then there will be soon. On this point I do agree with Witchy and it's not simply a population thing it's the whole way the world is set up to rely on growth being good whether it's population or economic (and the two are linked). It's not possible to keep growing for ever.
This is not to say I'm in favour of curbing immigration to the UK....the world will never solve it's problems as long as people keep putting up borders.

Posted by NiC on 29 June, 2016 at 6:47 PM

It is an interesting question, are there too many people. I think it is undeniable that the number of humans and the way we choose to live our lives is having a seriously adverse impact on the Earth.

Given that most humans are having little impact you have to woder what will happen when the Chinese and Indian population start flying and consuming at Western rates.

But that's not exactly what we are talking about here.

I think it is clear that the UK population will continue to grow due to all of us living longer. It is also clear that we will need more people of working age to support the ageing population.

The problem for me is that we have no plan for what the right number is, who the right people are and where they will live. The result is that some communities feel that they are under threat and changed for the worse by new arrivals.

Exit will give us the opportunity to control this process. Time will tell whether or not we do or can.

What is frustrating me a little Ham is that for every problem discussed you fall back on the theme that in your opinion 'leaving the EU will do nothing for that'.

Those voting leave are more intelligent that believing that voting leave will simply solve all of the UK's problems. It won't. We simply believe that, on balance, it offers a better future.

Again time will tell, but we get the point that you don't think it will.

It is going to be hard work that's for sure.

Posted by Mr BW on 29 June, 2016 at 7:08 PM

Are we talking world or UK? in both cases it is possible to feed everyone from existing resources but different parts of the world experience different issues from each other. To suggest that the food supply issue has the same potential impact or consensus of opinion as, say, the impact of climate change is from what I do know (as in, I haven't researched any more but I have an interest over the years) overstating the case.

For the UK (and the UK is what we are discussing after all) we may not produce our own food but as far as I know we could if (a) we wanted to and (b) we were prepared to eat less meat. Almost as critical from civilisation's point of view is our reliance on imported energy. On the world stage, the potential impact of cataclysmic climate events is likely to have more impact.

But, as you say, I am a town mouse so I'm one stage removed. You may be right, the perspective that there are/soon to be too many people in the world to feed may be the only sensible one to hold. But if so, what then is the correct action to take? The answer to that and the answer to feeding the world is more complex than a comment box will ever hold.

But as far as too many people in the UK - that I would argue has to be wrong, because you cannot isolate the UK in that way - in or out of the EU.

Posted by Ham on 29 June, 2016 at 8:08 PM

I agree that there needs to be an English Parliament - the West Lothian is as valid now as it ever was. I'm just not convinced that Europe was the correct target - and I think some of the most disenfranchised people may lose the most in leaving Europe.

Posted by agaless etc on 29 June, 2016 at 9:59 PM

Mr BW, I agree with pretty much everything you say, and recognise that we all have opinions about what may happen in the future which we have arrived at through due consideration.

I think my core problem and what I am hoping to understand from you as articulate leave voters, is how to extrapolate a better future within this current system of governance.

(note that were we to change our system for the better I have already agreed it will have been worth almost any pain)

But I suspect we have delineated our differences and that we still have more in common in values and morality than separates us.

Posted by Ham on 29 June, 2016 at 11:54 PM

The UK could produce all the food it needs, Ham?

There were 20M fewer people in the UK during the 2nd WW. Even with 'Dig For Victory' where every spare foot of soil was farmed by any spare citizen, and a land army, things were severely rationed. The Germans and their U-Boat blocade of the North Atlantic nearly starved us then.

Even considering the more intensive (chemically- and machinery- driven) production methods these days, with levels of demand and waste as they are now, there is NO WAY that the UK can produce even the greater part of the food we want/need.

Posted by Blue Witch on 30 June, 2016 at 7:36 AM

Hi Ham
I think you are right. we are on the same continuum and have the same concerns and worries about the future, just with different thoughts on what might/could/should change for the better.

I am worried about the exit process. It has many changes that will
rock the stability boat for the next few years.

I also detest the way some have used the vote to exploit their bigotry and hope they crawl back under their stones (to then have them rolled over onto them for good).

On the governance question, even the UK govt is aware of the gains to be made by devolving to more local control, where people understand what needs doing, hence the Localism Act.

The EU was heading in the opposite direction, progressively more central control with an apparent belief in untouchability.

Having said that I also accept that for every true story of waste (moving parliament between countries once a month to keep the French happy), some stories about the EU are complete or partial rubbish (unlike every country, the EU appears to balance its budget, spending only what it has, but it runs a 5% error that prevents auditors signing off its accounts).

It of course doesn't mean that bringing control back to the UK will mean that it will be expertly executed. But at least we are back in the old position of being able to vote those who are running our affairs in or out.

Posted by Mr BW on 30 June, 2016 at 7:50 AM

Wheat yield has roughly trebled since the war years, at which point it had been static for a century or more.

Food security is an interesting question. If for the sake of argument the Zombie Apocalypse hit the rest of the world and we pulled up the drawbridges, could we feed our population, or would we starve? Ignoring the fact that the energy deficit would hit much harder and faster - and affect our ability to continue the same production methods - we can stop ourselves from starving, we already produce sufficient food.

Current wheat & barley production in the UK is c 25M tonnes ( about 20% of this appears to go into animal feed - source: stats). Based on 3,400 calories per kilo and a population of 60M, that alone equates 3,881 kcal per person per day. No starvation.

Reality is substantially more complicated, I grant, but the science doesn't appear to support your claim. You are welcome to check my maths.

To be clear, this is in respect of the theoretical question, "can the UK feed 60M people?". I'm not suggesting it is practical or desirable or that agriculture in this country is not in a bit of a mess through market distortion and vested interests, or that the EU doesn't have a lot to answer for in that respect.

Posted by Ham on 30 June, 2016 at 10:22 AM

The *official* UK population is now 65,110 (mid-last-year) (undoubtedly more than 70+M then).

So, In Ham world, one eats just wheat?
I'm stuffed.

Posted by Blue Witch on 30 June, 2016 at 10:34 AM

It's the new social media diet T-wheat for everyone.

If the question was, can the UK sustain itself in the style to which it has become used, the answer is a resounding "no", and probably no for the world, too, especially as emerging markets' diet change away from traditional towards a predominance of meat.

Of course our dependency for energy imports is even higher than food, and our ability to do much about that is strictly limited.

Posted by Ham on 30 June, 2016 at 11:03 AM