It's fantastic news that BMW is investing another £500m to build the next generation of Minis, a move that will protect 5,000 jobs for many years.
Coming just days after Nissan said it would invest another £200m and so soon after Tata's decision to build another Land Rover Jaguar plant, this is excellent evidence that the UK's automotive industry is speeding again.
So it's imperative that this vote of confidence by foreign manufacturers should not be undermined by the gloomy prognosis elsewhere in the economy. Of course consumer confidence and retailing is tough – households are still restructuring their own deficits and the latest price hikes in electricity are going to make this even tougher.
Attempts to rebalance the economy away from the froth of finance towards manufacturing was always going to be painful, but those efforts seem to be paying off. Manufacturing output dipped slightly from March to April but the outlook is bright. Figures last week from EEF, the manufacturers trade body, show recruitment intentions have never been higher and that growth is running at a booming 3.2 per cent this year.
Vacancies were up 60 per cent last year and nearly a third of all growth came from manufacturing in the past year although the sector represents just 13 per cent of output. A quarter of manufacturers say they will employ more staff this year on a net basis.
Yet, there's a big problem – we don't have enough skilled workers to fill all the vacancies. EEF warns of an acute skills shortage across all manufacturing for thousands and thousands of jobs from those which require the most basic NVQ skills to ones which need PhDs. This is astonishing when you consider there are thousands of youngsters aged between 18 and 24 without work.
What's gone so wrong? Well, it's a shortage which existed well before the recession but has worsened because no one anticipated quite how strong the recovery would be. As EEF's economist Lee Hopley puts it, the pipeline for training engineers was cracked years ago and how we fill the void is the real crisis facing industry.
This has been caused by two problems. First, manufacturers can't find enough 14 to 19-year-olds with the right skills due to poor teaching in subjects such as science and maths. Second, there aren't enough youngsters interested in manufacturing simply because they are not given good advice at school where careers guidance is notoriously hopeless, particularly the Connexions service which is a disgrace. I have teenagers at school and know that engineers or inventors are never invited in for talks. Nor have I ever come across careers fairs where local manufacturers have been present.
There is so much which can be done to change the culture towards science again. Why aren't teenagers being taken on visits to see some of our latest state-of-the-art factories (Bentley in Crewe would be a brilliant place to start) rather than yet another museum?
If the Government is serious about boosting manufacturing – and I believe it is – then it must go to the root of the problem. This can only be done once it accepts the culture and infrastructure must be overhauled. We need to train a new generation of good science teachers, boost FE and technical colleges and persuade UK's manufacturers to get out on the road selling their wares. Time for Lord Sugar to get off our screens and people like Sir James Dyson to get into the classroom.
London listing authority must move swiftly to salvage its listings reputation
Sir Richard Sykes is right. If London is to hold on to its reputation as one of the world's greatest markets, then the UK Listing Authority must move swiftly to tighten up its listing requirements and corporate governance.
At present, companies – both domestic and overseas – are required to list a minimum of 25 per cent of their shares if they seek a full listing. However, companies and their advisers are able to argue that exceptions can be made, which is why so many companies have been able to list with a smaller free float (shares that are actually available to investors).
In the case of ENRC, advisers were able to list the Kazakh mining giant with only 18 per cent of the shares being floated. But, as Sir Richard says, the danger signals were there from the beginning, as the majority of shares were held by a small number of powerful investors. Sir Richard was one of four independent directors on the 14-man board, but even so he says they found it impossible to persuade the other Kazakh directors to follow the rules. It's a pity that someone as experienced as Sir Richard wasn't able to tough it out.
Many overseas companies have already found it difficult to find good "independent" directors to bolster their corporate governance and they are going to find it even harder after watching this latest coup. Even those directors who may have been tempted to take on such roles for the money will be put off.
But there's another, much bigger issue brewing which the City needs to address. Criticism is now at fever pitch over the way investment bankers have been dumping big issues on the London market as they attempt to cream off fees. Buy-side firms, such as the giant BlackRock, are furious at the way bankers are valuing the shares of new companies far too high and that the book-running syndicates of investment banks have too much power and have become too large.
It is odd how criticisms like this only ever emerge when times are tough and it's hard to make even a few basis points. But if the City wants to stay ahead for the next bull market, it needs a clean-up.
IMF chief-elect: A fitness fanatic it would be foolish to mess with
Barring last-minute scandals or a last-minute pitch, Mme Christine Lagarde looks set to cruise into the hot seat as the next chairman of the IMF. Nominations closed on Friday and, following the withdrawal of Grigory Marchenko, governor of Kazakhstan's central bank, Lagarde will go through unopposed. It's a great result as France's finance minister is the most accomplished candidate to have emerged during the campaign, and it's a credit to those who wanted the next IMF boss to come from an emerging country that they have come on side. Let's hope the fractured politics of the IMF don't distract her. I doubt it – the 55-year-old is a strict vegetarian and fitness fanatic who never drinks a drop of alcohol. Watch out, boys.
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