Letters: Perspectives on British manufacturing industry

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The Independent Online

We are exporting our expertise to China

Yvonne Cook, ("Here's the proof that Britain can make it", 7 June), writes an up-beat assessment about the state of British manufacturing. Apparently, the BBC programme Made in Britain holds that the real value is in the research, development and marketing and that there is no problem about letting China do the low-value bit.

This is appalling short-termism. By separating the practical work from the design we not only impoverish our designers, but export our expertise. It is the practical people who spark creatively, innovate and find better methods. By out-sourcing to China we are providing a spring-board for their designers. It will not be long before their designs outshine ours. What then for British manufacturing?

Imported goods may seem cheap, but their real cost is many times higher than their monetary value. We have to send wealth abroad to pay for them. Had we made the products here, then we would be creating wealth here. The people who would have made the products are probably unemployed, and instead of contributing to the wealth of the nation, may have become an economic burden.

Dyson has outsourced its production to Malaysia but Miele still makes its products in Germany. Miele are not under the same pressures as Dyson because, it seems, the City of Frankfurt is prepared to take more modest profits than the City of London in exchange for long-term benefit. It also appears that German business uses part of this year's profit to invest in next year's business. The result is that their businesses grow more slowly but carry less debt and have survived the recession better.

David McKaigue, Thornton Hough, Wirral

Destroyed by the City

Like the Prime Minister, you may be wondering why the UK has lost most of its manufacturing industry. There is no mystery; it springs from the now entrenched view which holds, contrary to the opinions of Neanderthals such as Brunel, Watt, Stephenson, Telford and Bessemer, that in order to succeed in industry, you do not have to be good at inventing things, designing things or making things. You only have to be good with money. It goes like this:

With backing from the City you have been appointed Chairman and MD of a successful manufacturing company. From past experience, and studies at the nation's leading business school, you know that all that is now required for continued success is to keep a close eye on the balance sheet. When, in the fullness of time, this clearly is not working, you go to the bankers, and, being well known in the City, borrow money to take over a larger and now evidently more successful manufacturer.

Soon after the takeover you undertake a "shake-up" of the new acquisition. This takes the form of forcibly retiring the MD, the engineering director, production director, and R&D director, who are replaced by younger men with amazing track records in banking and finance. To plaudits from the City, you award yourself a huge bonus, and settle down to keeping a close eye on the enlarged balance sheet.

This process, of course, can be repeated until the supply of successful manufacturing companies dries up.

Ernest Edwards, Worcester

Green future gone already

Is it any wonder that the UK is in relative economic decline? In the 19th century innovation was applauded, encouraged and financially supported; and we prospered.

In the 20th century the UK economy peaked and began to decline. Why? Look at Germany. It already produces 17 per cent of its energy output from renewables and is Europe's biggest exporter of manufactured goods. Look at the UK, with the largest wind- energy resources, but already trailing behind Denmark, Spain, France and Germany in development.

If you look at new wind farms in the UK, especially the largest projects, you will see the name of Dong Energy – not exactly a traditional British company. UK plc has not got a clue any more.

J L Fynaut, London N10

Tories' vicious attack on public-sector workers

I've rarely seen a more patronising article about trades unions than the comment piece by Sean O'Grady "Unions risk becoming as irrelevant in the public sector as in the private" (20 June).

Public sector workers, it seems, shouldn't worry their silly little heads about taking industrial action to save their pensions, because they won't receive any sympathy, as they're much better off than the private sector, where the race to the bottom has ensured that workers get awful pensions. Therefore they should stoically accept the forthcoming pension debacle: on top of redundancies, wage cuts, and a three-year pay freeze.

My "gold plated" pension, after 22 years in local government, is £270 a month. During my career the only time when my pay increased in line with inflation was on two occasions when we went on strike.

Besides receiving a worse pension, my colleagues who survive the axe will be expected to pay over 3 per cent extra contributions, which will not go towards the pension funds, which are self sustaining, but to central government to cut the deficit.

Whether or not there is support from other sections of society, I cannot see how there is any option for public sector trades unionists other than to resist, by all means possible, this uniquely vicious attack on the public sector by the Tories and their useful idiot mouthpiece Danny Alexander.

Stewart Perkins, Market Drayton, Shropshire

Sean O'Grady is missing the point about the battle for public-sector pensions. It's not about protecting the interests of the few with the best pensions. It's about taking care of the millions of public-service workers who sacrifice some of their pay today for dignity in retirement tomorrow. The workers we rely on every day to educate and keep our children safe, look after the sick and care for our elderly and most vulnerable. The vast majority of public servants retire on a few thousand pounds – £3,800 for local government workers and £6,500 in the NHS – hardly a fortune.

Why should the fight for a decent pension be turned into them and us, public v private? Pensions – or the lack of them – will become a serious drain on the country, unless we get it right.

The real pensions time-bomb is in the private sector. Millions of private-sector workers are locked out of pension schemes, while bosses enjoy gold-plated retirement packages. They wash their hands of providing for their workers, and expect taxpayers to pick up the bill for means-tested benefits.

Public-sector pensions are fair and sustainable. Asking workers to pay more, get less and work longer is simply unfair.

Public-sector workers are angry: angry at myths about gold-plated pensions, angry at having their pay frozen when inflation is rising and angry that jobs are under the axe. We don't want strike action – we want to keep talking, but the clock is ticking.

Dave Prentis, General secretary, UNISON, London NW1

Although Sean O'Grady describes me as "politically asinine", my union is doing exactly as he advises and has balloted its members over job cuts and the pay freeze, as well as pensions.

His analysis that we are battling against "a steep salient of hostile public opinion" over pensions is also way off the mark. The most recent YouGov poll has public opinion narrowly on our side.

He also describes career average pension schemes as "fair". We are not opposed to such schemes, which is why we agreed one for new entrants to the Civil Service just a few years ago. But the scheme being proposed would force people to pay more – unless they are one of the4 per cent of civil servants on less than £15,000 a year – and work longer for far less in retirement. Our members voted to strike because they know this is deeply unfair. But they also voted to defend their jobs and the essential services they provide to the public.

Mark Serwotka, General secretary, Public and Commercial Services union, London SW11

How disappointing that the trade union movement has chosen such a poor cause for flexing its muscles and challenging the Government.

There is so much to protest about as the underprivileged get screwed while the super-rich become even richer, and the unions would have surely gained huge support for a broadly justifiable campaign to stop this divisive government making matters worse with its blatantly ideological spending cuts.

Without a credible opposition, we need a trade union movement with social vision. Yet the unions choose the feeble issue of public service pensions – hardly likely to stir sympathy among the millions of people with far worse pensions or none at all. What a shame.

Ray Chandler, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex

Those who support pension reform are not, as Mark Steel (22 June) quite offensively suggests, "miserable, bitter, cynical, poxy, selfish piles of sludge". More likely, they are the normal hard-working majority of people who can see that having to pay for their own pensions while subsidising generous public-sector versions (which often kick in many years before their own), seems less than fair.

Mike Weir, London E1

So ageism is alive and thriving in Essex. "Does anyone really want to be taught by a teacher who is 68 years old?" asks Simon Gosden, commenting on public sector pensions (letter, 16 June).

Try saying that again, Mr Gosden, but this time saying "black" instead of "68 years old". Ageism is every bit as bad as racism or sexism, but all too many folk do not seem to grasp this.

The argument about reduced life expectancy is probably codswallop too, unless one is unwise enough to work full-time or in a very stressful and challenging school at that age. I find mixing with some delightful teenagers at 67 keeps my brain in trim and my computer skills up to speed.

Dr Carol Blyth, Wendover, Buckinghamshire

New troubles in Ulster

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has identified the loyalist UVF as being the instigators and organisers of the last two nights of rioting in Northern Ireland. Why any loyalist should want to engage in mindless violence is probably beyond the understanding of any sane person anywhere.

However, we do need to get inside the heads of those responsible, so we are better informed, and we must ensure that young loyalists understand the probable consequences of their actions if they are to avoid the pain and misery of past generations. The next few years are going to be tough for everyone in Europe, so why add to the pain locally in Northern Ireland?

It was loyalist violence directed at nationalist communities in 1969 that led to 30 years of death and destruction. Back then, just as now, there was no functioning IRA. These attacks on nationalists led to the founding of the Provisional IRA, and we all know the history of the following 30 years.

Maybe this is what the UVF wants. If it is we need to know why and what's in it for them, and then let the whole population know, but particularly the young who are being cynically used as the foot soldiers for the older generation.

John Simpson, Ross on Wye, Herefordshire

Cameron blocks prison reform

It is indeed deeply depressing that Ken Clarke's proposed reforms have been rejected by the Prime Minister (leading article, 22 June). They had the support of many respected organisations, including the Prison Reform Trust, working to improve those aspects of the prison system which, to our shame, distinguish this country's approach to prisons from those of so many of our more enlightened European neighbours.

If David Cameron is prepared to exercise this sort of "political flexibility" to gain populist support in the teeth of informed advice, how long will it be before he starts to apply the same thought processes to the return of the death penalty?

Christopher Martin, Kington Langley, Wiltshire

Another government minister humiliated and another U-turn. It looks like they will have to build a lot of new prisons.

Steven Calrow, Liverpool

Exam board's alarming errors

This year I have had the privilege to teach in three subject areas, at different examination levels, and have encountered the many vagaries and inconsistencies of AQA's exam syllabuses.

Any surprise at the exam board's capacity for error would be immediately dispelled by looking at the geography textbook for A2, endorsed by the board, whose meteorology section I perused prior to conducting workshops with year-13 students, only to discover alarming editing errors, about which I had to warn students, who would presumably otherwise have struggled to make sense of the text.

Happening shortly afterwards upon a markscheme for last year's AS classical civilisation exam, I discovered similarly elementary errors of fact which presumably affected students' marks last year.

Over and above the examples you have reported, these suggest that a full study of the problem would be alarming in the extreme.

Steve Fraser, Weymouth, Dorset

Why all the fuss about the odd mistakes in examination papers? In a few months' time there will be the usual massive round of complaints about incompetent, inaccurate and unreliable marking and grading by all the boards.

Bernard Smith, Halsham, East Sussex

The rich and the rest

Further to the letter from Steve Edwards (21 June ) a good example of the gulf between ordinary workers and the super-rich could be found in Harriet Walker's report on the "fabulous Ecclestone sisters" (18 June). According to this report, Bernie has recently bought 22-year-old Petra a £92m home in the USA to add to two houses in Chelsea, one of which is worth £56m. Those two figures together total £148m. That is the equivalent of 5,603 years' gross pay for someone on median earnings of around £26,400.

Nowhere in the report was there any suggestion that there was anything untoward about someone being entitled to such obscene amounts by accident of birth. Meanwhile, the rest of us are expected to knuckle down and work longer and for less, assuming we are lucky enough to keep our jobs.

George Monaghan, Bootle, Merseyside

Jurors on the internet

The jailing of juror Joanne Fraill for communicating via Facebook with a defendant illustrates another challenge confronting our legal system in the internet age.

There is no reason to sympathise with Ms Fraill on being sentenced to prison. The nature of her communication with the defendant proved she knew she was in contempt and risked causing a mistrial. But recent research has shown that jurors are increasingly inclined to Google details of the case they are trying, including previous media coverage.

Doubtless, as a result of this case, judges will be advised to emphasise the contempt risks of the internet to jurors. Arguably, however, there is a question to be asked in the modern technological age whether we should now review our contempt laws and relax them in line with the US system, where jurors are trusted to reach an independent verdict based on the courtroom evidence regardless of prior media reports.

Paul Connew, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Going forward, going nowhere

Following Pauline Littlewood and Bernard Smith's thoughts (letter, 18 June) about the reduced use of the words "effect"/ "affect" and "lie"/ "lay" to avoid incorrect spelling, I was recently in an office where I noted a box with the word "STATIONARY" clearly written on its side. Before I left, I pointed out the misspelling. "Not at all," I was told. "That box is going nowhere."

Paul Shelley, Brixworth, Northamptonshire

There is a large, unnoticed omission from your cliché collection – the elephant in the room.

Susan Monson, Mildenhall, Wiltshire

Going forward, how gutted am I at the plethora of clichés appearing in the media? At this moment in time, I'm, like, gutted, beyond words!

Fred Reece, Bracknell, Berkshire