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Talking Point: Off the rails

John Forkin, managing director at Marketing Derby, defends Bombardier and takes issue with the government’s pledge to rebalance the economy.

It’s economics as authored by the Mad Hatter.

Government ministers, from the PM down, can’t stop themselves from repeating the mantra that the UK must rebalance its economy - from public to private, from consumption to production.

Hear, hear I’d say.

Last Wednesday, at PMQs, David Cameron restated his belief that he wanted the ‘growth of things made in Britain’.

Hear, hear again.

But, hang on, obviously he didn’t mean trains as 24 hours later and under the ubiquitous cover of a written question, the Transport Minister Theresa Villiers slipped out a decision to award a £1.4bn contract to Germany. Siemens has been asked to build 1,200 new trains for the Thameslink line that runs through London.

Over the past 20 years the UK unique feast or famine approach to rail procurement has hounded out most train builders. We are now left with last man standing, Bombardier, who employ 3,000 people in Derby with as many as 20,000 jobs depending on their presence across the midlands. Bombardier is now reviewing its UK operation and can you really blame them?

No, you didn’t read that wrong, the only manufacturer of trains in the UK is now considering leaving. This means every train we order in the future will be built abroad and imported into the UK. With that we lose, forever, the engineering capabilities evolved over the past 170 years and move a further step from the holy grail of the balanced economy.

Some of you might be thinking ‘didn’t I hear all this before?’ and you’d be right.

In 2009 the government awarded the £7.5bn Inter City Express contract to Hitachi in Japan.

These trains are going to be built in Japan and then shipped to the UK. Siemens will build theirs in Germany and again ship them to the UK. Don’t be blinded by government spin on jobs created. There are some end-assembly, shed construction and maintenance jobs, but crucially not manufacturing.

I carry out more manufacturing putting together a Billy Bookcase from IKEA than will happen with these trains in the UK.

Geoff Hoon was the Transport Minister in 2009 and now Theresa Villiers joins him in the UK’s Manufacturing Hall of Shame.

When asked for explanation both dragged out their carefully prepared civil service-speak script,value for money for the tax payer, EU procurement laws, blah, blah blah.

Fact is 90% of German trains are built in Germany, 91 per cent of Spanish trains built in Spain and 100% of French trains built in France. Funny ,eh?

As for the poor tax payer. The Treasury has admitted that they had not carried out any impact assessment of the Thameslink decision on the economy – apparently they didn’t have the micro economic data at a regional level. Genius, eh?

Anger is building fast at a Derby level and we will be soon taking our case to the PM at Number 10. But, this is much more than a Derby issue. Once again the UK is in danger of wiping out another part of the manufacturing economy and at what stage do we stand up and say ‘no more’?


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