Thursday, November 24, 2011

British business: Lazy and protected by government

On Thursdays, when the main feature articles are written by Zoe Williams and Seumas Milne, the Guardian gives you the feeling that it has been taken over by children for the day.

But on Monday it carried a terrific article by Aditya Chakrabortty.

He began by looking at the career of the hugely overrated Richard Branson, but went on to point a wide moral about British business:
in his desire for sheltered money-makers, the Virgin boss differs from the rest of British business only in his desire for publicity. Look at our household names: take out retail, banks and commodities and the things you're left with bear names such as Wessex Water or Centrica or Arriva. In other words, they do things the public sector used to do – pump water or pipe gas or lay on public transport. Alternatively, they're outfits such as Serco, or Capita and they're bidding for contracts from the government; or they're engineers bidding for PFI projects. Now look at the big names in America or Germany: there are firms such as Google or Siemens.
Over here much of the private sector isn't adding anything or innovating – indeed, it's tricky to do that when you're running an administrative office or supplying water. They're simply taking contracts and cutting staffing costs.
Good stuff, I recommend you to read the whole article.


Anonymous said...

To be fair though, this story would be even better if it were a little more true. The argument relies for its force on the fact that it is looking for 'household names', and perhaps more importantly names that spring to mind to a Guardian reader / columnist.

It therefore neglects to mention our economies remaining international stars in manufacturing (Unilever and GSK), or our continue dominence of certain 'non-household name' industries, such as mining and shipping. Nothing like as sexy as Google, or even Siemens, but not worth forgetting either, if only because our countries position in both industries is hardly guarenteed.

Further down the line it is worth remembering that the majority of chips currently being produced are UK designed (thanks to ARM) or that the second largest telecomunications company in the world (Vodafone - acording to forbes anyway) is too. Obviously we also continue to be good at making cigareets and armaments, although many of us might wish we weren't.

Sometimes it is far to easy for people to assume that simply because we don't make cloths or cars anymore we have no industry. I fear this can be a kind of self-fulfilling profesy!

dreamingspire said...

And the article ends with "it's business that needs to be prodded into working harder". Thanks to Anon above for outlining the sector that does work harder, so that we can, after sidelining Branson and his ilk 'cos they will do what they do no matter what anyone says, ask how do we stimulate the other biggies? Not by entreaties from here today gone tomorrow politicos, but by long term hard graft by competent civil servants - except that collectively they lost the plot 45 years ago. Attempts to start a public sector regeneration were stalled in 2004 (by politicos, of course). The politicos do have to back it, and they are doing that now, so that the regeneration has got started this year. I just wish that the Filth (as Jane Griffiths calls the Grauniad) would also get its act together to help push, but today it is as fragmented as the civil service currently is.