Business View: Labour let down Marconi, so send it from Coventry

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The Independent Online

What's the difference between MG Rover and Marconi? No, this is not a joke at the expense of two of Britain's more unfortunate totems of our great manufacturing past. It is a genuine enquiry about industrial policy in the UK (if, indeed one exists).

What's the difference between MG Rover and Marconi? No, this is not a joke at the expense of two of Britain's more unfortunate totems of our great manufacturing past. It is a genuine enquiry about industrial policy in the UK (if, indeed one exists).

Two weeks ago, as hope was lost for keeping MG Rover going, both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown rushed to Longbridge and a £40m aid package was announced for the 5,000 workers being laid off. On Thursday, as Messrs Blair and Brown, along with Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt, were announcing Labour's Manifesto for Business, BT was plunging a knife into the heart of one of Britain's largest electronics companies and consigning up to 2,000 people to redundancy.

But none of the Labour bigwigs seemed to want to go to Coventry, where at least two-thirds of the Marconi lay-offs will be. No aid packages were announced and the company's attempts to get the Department of Trade and Industry to intercede on its behalf were hardly heard.

You could put a pretty strong argument for saying this is as it should be. It is not in anyone's interests for the Government to support lame ducks. But then you would have to ask why it has spent hundreds of millions of tax- payers' money on MG Rover. Is it that Longbridge is in the centre of a slew of marginal constituencies, while Coventry's three seats are all safely Labour?

And Marconi is not a lame duck. Sure it has had its financial difficulties - indeed it is lucky to still be alive. But this is to do with borrowing too much, buying the wrong businesses and backing the wrong financiers. The core company has always been at the forefront of telecoms technology.

By all accounts, its lack of financial strength was one of the main reasons why Marconi lost out in the £10bn BT 21CN beanfeast. This is just where the DTI could have helped, by giving financial assistance to Marconi to help it win the BT contract. After all, it bends over backwards to aid the likes of Airbus when deals are being awarded in the UK.

Labour's Manifesto for Business is not worth the paper it is written on if it cannot help companies like Marconi. It would serve Labour right if the voters of Coventry give it a bloody nose.

Blair's euro error

Meanwhile, Tony also gave a kicking to British exporters by killing off the faint hopes they might have had that sterling would join the euro. I'm not going to rehearse the pro and con arguments again, but let me make these points. At the moment, the UK has some advantages as a place to invest in Europe because of our more flexible working practices. But in the past few years the toughening of our tax regime - and loosening of those in, say, Germany or Holland - has lost us that competitive edge. Continental interest rates are lower than ours, and the euro takes a lot of risk out of investment decisions and tendering for contracts.

By turning his back on the euro, the Prime Minister has not only given up something he believes in because of political expediency, he has bought into the sort of complacent thinking that says because things are hunky-dory today, they will always remain so. Of course, Mr Blair will have long retired by the time this decision comes back to haunt him.

Vote me for Man Utd

Regular readers will know I'm not a fan of Manchester United. That is why I should be on the football club's board.

The decision by the members of its board - who are all fans of the team - to reject Malcolm Glazer's 300p-a-share offer because his bid vehicle has too much debt shows they have a conflict of interest.

May I remind them that, as directors of a public company, their duty is to shareholders. Therefore, their only interest in the 300p bid is whether it is better for Man Utd investors than any alternative - which it is - and whether Mr Glazer and his backers, NM Rothschild and JP Morgan, can deliver the money should the bid go through - which they can.

What happens after Mr Glazer wins control of Man Utd is of no interest to the directors of the public company. It is, though, of interest to supporters. Therefore, get the Man Utd fans off Man Utd's board and put people like me in to represent real shareholders.

j.nisse@independent.co.uk

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