James Moore: Learn lessons in growth from the Germans

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Outlook: With what is becoming an annual battle over bonuses now well and truly joined, expect more threats to quit the UK from various banking executives.

This will again highlight the pressing need to balance Britain's economy away from financial services. The Government has repeatedly voiced its support for this, but there has been a lot more talk than action with a few exceptions that often seem designed to ensure the embattled Liberal Democrats get the odd sweetie or two from the Coalition.

The TUC thinks we can learn more from Germany and today releases the results of an exhaustive study into how the UK might emulate its high-wage, manufacturing-led, high-growth economy. Some of its findings are hardly controversial. They include the suggestion that the Government should target sectors where Britain is or could be competitive for support, rather than applying a broad-brush approach. Or the call to improve this country's woeful skills base through a greater and better use of apprenticeships.

German companies complain that skilled employees are hard to find just as British ones do. But then they start from a much higher base. To be fair, some of the findings about Germany's export success are not so comfortable for unions. The report admits that Germany stimulated its trade surplus in part by the suppression of wages (although German workers still earn more than British workers). That would be a bitter pill for any union to swallow and the TUC naturally doesn't advocate it for a British manufacturing renaissance.

Unsurprisingly, the case is also made for the apparently warm relations between unions and management and of the works councils whose influence extends to board level. We have already seen FTSE 100 chairman emulating bankers by (privately) suggesting that the introduction of something similar here would have them upping sticks.

To be fair, the British union movement bears part of the responsibility for this hostility. Germany is helped by the fact that unions and management appear to get by without silly strops from either side. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. A report by the Mannheim-based ZEW economic think-tank said yesterday that investor and analyst sentiment rose by the highest amount every recorded in January not least because of some very favourable economic data. Quite a contrast to the sentiment here. Perhaps we should just hire some of their managers and union chiefs.