Magazine article Management Today

The Struggle to Stay in the League: Peter Wilsher Considers the Implications of a Report Which Suggests That the UK Is Barely Capable of Surviving as an Industrial Nation

Magazine article Management Today

The Struggle to Stay in the League: Peter Wilsher Considers the Implications of a Report Which Suggests That the UK Is Barely Capable of Surviving as an Industrial Nation

Article excerpt

The struggle to stay in the league On the maps prepared by the economic geographers, Britain still appears as a fully paid-up member of the European Community. London and the South East stand at one vertex of the Golden Triangle which (with Frankfurt and Paris) embraces the greater part of the region's financial and information-handling expertise. The Blue Banana, beloved of French conceptualists, sweeps from Birmingham and the West Midlands, across to the Benelux countries, down the Rhine Valley, through south west Germany and into northern Italy, incorporating a mighty powerhouse of industrial strength. Kent is occasionally linked with its near-neighbour Nord-Pas-de-Calais, just across the Channel, as a possible partner in some future, bilingual Channel Tunnel superstate. And although no one pretends that any part of the UK possesses those assets of sun, scenery and relaxed lifestyle which are turning parts of Europe into Golden Crescents of high-technology out on their own, there are still those optimists, who believe that it is possible for our older manufacturing concentrations, like Wales and the North East to find ways of fighting back -- even if an uncomfortably large proportion of their renewal does seem to be financed with Japanese money.

The worrying question though, is whether the UK still retains the necessary production skills, not to mention the managerial and entrepreneurial drive, to hold its place in these senior leagues. As Europe evolves ever more rapidly towards the condition of a single marketplace, the doctrine of 'competitive advantage' will increasingly determine the winners and losers on this particular playing field. The discouraging truth is that Britain's advantages are starting to look pretty thin on the ground.

Viewed from the Continent, the consensus is that the Anglo-Saxons are still pretty good at pharmaceuticals, food processing and the developing of precision instruments, particularly in the medical field. There are also substa pockets of excellence in chemicals and the electrical and electronic categories, with a fair-sized residue left over from our former dominance in aerospace and data-processing. But once financial services have been added in, and the considerable expertise developed in the process of exploring and then exploiting the North Sea oil and gas fields, the list becomes somewhat sparse. And too many of its constituents occupy only small, highly specialised niches in the global market. …

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