An 'Optimistic Alternative' on Offer for UK Economy; Professor Brian Morgan of Uwic Reviews the First Book by Former Director General of the CBI and Government Minister Digby Jones, Entitled Fixing Britain: The Business of Reshaping Our Nation
FOR the past two decades the political economy of Britain has been on a roller coaster. The business cycle - once claimed to have been tamed by Gordon Brown - has returned with a vengeance and brought with it a ballooning budget deficit.
This has highlighted the cost to the taxpayer of the large and expanding public sector and in addition it has brought into question the efficiency of the civil service. At the same time our political system has been undermined by the expenses scandal and the inability of parliament to hold the executive to account.
These are the issues Lord Jones seeks to address in this interesting new book. As the title suggests, in his view the system needs urgent reform if economic and political decline are to be avoided. With the author's recent experience as a trade minister in the last Labour Government (although interestingly he refused to become a member of the Labour Party) and his experience as head of the CBI, he provides some robust answers to these topical issues.
In the first chapter he emphasises the need for urgency in introducing radical reforms - the chapter is entitled Five Minutes to Midnight - Time for Change. The "gimme" society, coupled with functional illiteracy in large sections of the working population, has weakened Britain and undermined its ability to compete in the new global economy. But for Digby Jones, enhancing and supporting the role played by British business remains the only route out of this morass.
"We are the sixth biggest manufacturing country on earth ..... so we do have a framework on which to base our fightback."
The main problem according to Digby Jones is one that will resonate with most people in the business community and with many other observers: "Government intrusion has complicated running a business ... Incompetence in government delivery [and the planning system] has left us all poorer.... Much of this is because few of our politicians have had any experience of real life, or a real job."
He quickly highlights the root cause as "the desperate state of our education system" - despite the famous "education, education, education" promise of Tony Blair's government.
Much of the early chapters comprise a long, drawn out whinge about the well known problems facing Britain - but viewed from an almost biographical standpoint. For example, in addition to the "gimme" society, there is the high rate of recidivism in our prisons, a public sector out of control, the lunacy of the Blair/Brown internecine rivalry, the amount of parliamentary time spent on foxhunting versus the war in Iraq, grade inflation in schools and a lack of attention to a proper teaching of history, and finally back to the crucial deficiency - the lack of appreciation of the important role played by the business sector.
We learn that these views have been instilled in Lord Jones from an early age. He writes: "I was born into business.
Mum and dad owned a shop..... Above all, after all those years, I am convinced of one thing - the power of business to make a difference."
His successful time at the CBI, from 2000 to 2006, convinced him of the importance of industry.
He makes the point that without the "wealth created by large and small business alike, there would be nothing to spend on schools, hospitals". He also stresses that "making things" is vital and when the last Labour government lost sight of this basic principle they undermined their own capacity to deliver a sustainable improvement in our public services. …