City & Business: Shaping for the future

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The Independent Online
Corporate restructuring continues to sweep the country. On Monday Vickers announced the sale of Rolls Royce because it lacks the capital to compete in a market dominated by integrated auto makers. On Wednesday, Pilkington announced it was cutting 6,000 jobs and taking a charge of pounds 200m in an effort to secure its good, but shaky, position in the world glass business.

Analysts are debating the efficacy of the two restructurings. But there is silence on the political front, despite the fact that once upon a time the sale of a famous British name to foreigners, not to mention a deconstruction of the Merseyside labour market would have caused an uproar.

New Labour has not said boo about the news for obvious reasons. Corporate downsizing could lead to warfare between Mr Blair and MPs to his Left. But neither have the Tories said a peep. Apparently, the Shadow Cabinet lacks the political imagination to advance beyond its doctrine of not interfering in the market.

Yet the successful restructuring of companies like Vickers and Pilkington is crucial to the success of UK plc. The world economy is an economy not only of global finance, but also of transnational corporations squaring off against each other in global industrial markets.

Without backtracking to the days of Harold Wilson's discredited corporate "national champions" or to the days of Margaret Thatcher's market triumphalism, it seems logical there should be a way of debating how British companies are reshaping themselves in a political as well as economic forum.