Archive for March, 2011

Manufacturing proves that we can be “all in this together”

Posted in business with tags , , , on March 23, 2011 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Another cracking set of manufacturing output numbers yesterday from the CBI, a report on which can be read HERE on the Guardian’s website.

The CBI has reported that the orders balance has jumped to 5% in March from -8% in February, well above expectations of a reading of -6%. Manufacturing firms are expecting to increase output in coming months, with that measure rising to 27% from 23%, the highest level since February 2007.

All of which begs the question, how is manufacturing doing it when another one of my clients more aligned to the current vagaries of the consumer sector says he is feeling a definite slackening in demand?

Previously, I have put this down to a more favourable exchange rate environment which is making UK manufactured goods more competitive than we historically have been, but the CBI figures are beginning to show that there may be more to this than meets the eye. Apparently, the export orders balance fell back 11% to 5% during the period. This is still high by historical standards but does point that there more to this than just exchange rates.

A conversation with a manufacturing client a few weeks ago may offer a clue. He believes that manufacturing’s response to the downturn has been far more flexible than other sectors. Instead of laying people off, short time working, pay freezes and cuts, were used to drive cost out of businesses without, crucially, losing the skills necessary to take advantage of any upturn.

All of this demonstrates a rare maturity from both management and workforce and is truly a case of “we are all in this together”. It is certainly a far cry from the days of Red Robbo when a previous client told me he wasn’t sure if he was in the business of manufacturing or just providing jobs.

No Minister!

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on March 22, 2011 by Tom Leatherbarrow

I’ve neglected you. I apologise, holidays, email backlogs and children have led to a near month’s hiatus between my rants. Time to put this right!

I couldn’t help but notice a fascinating little article by James Forsyth in this week’s Spectator which can be read HERE. The article describes near panic in the Tory party over their inability to deliver on many of the promises made, in large part due to Civil Service intransigence.

There is a particularly juicy little anecdote in paragraph six which goes like this: “It is difficult to understate the depth of ministerial frustration. One secretary of state is so fed up with his department’s refusal to answer his questions that he has asked a friend of his, an MP, to put in a Freedom of Information request.”

I mean honestly, you can’t write comedy like this, it’s like something out of Yes Minister. It would appear that Project Cameron is falling foul of the one cast iron laws of British politics, namely that the Civil Service will only do what it wants to do and has every trick in the book to bring things to a grinding halt.

As Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes Minister fame might have said: “There are five ways of delaying doing anything Bernard. First, publish a consultation document. Second, hold a full department inquiry. Three, commission some academic research. Four, announce we are going to do something but only when the time is right. Five, as a last resort, hold a full public inquiry, that will take years!”

My guess is the secretaries of state in question are either Chris Huhne at DECC or William Hague at the Foreign Office who will undoubtedly come in for ever more flack as this term of Parliament goes on. Hague is clearly struggling with the FO brief and Huhne is tackling the big issues (and big targets) that this country faces in terms of climate change which need big decisions. The Civil Service will meanwhile remains protected by the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility ie. the Minister takes all the blame.

Now it’s not often I’m right, but I questioned before the General Election whether Cameron would be able to do half of what he wanted due to Civil Service foot-dragging. If this report is true and Project Cameron is to succeed he needs to get a grip quick