A new economy?

Reflecting on nearly six months of COVID-19 measures I must admit to some frustrations with the present administration for missing opportunities to deliver some positive strategic impact on the economy.

The furlough scheme has been a lifesaver for some businesses and their employees but it’s clear that it has been abused in some quarters, accessed by some companies that could probably pay a bit more tax and been used by businesses that really didn’t need it with very large underpinning cash reserves.

It could be argued that furlough has merely delayed the inevitable redundancies that would have happened but it certainly helped firms suffering when the economy dived in the Spring, when economic activity virtually ceased. Good businesses would have either closed or been compelled to make substantial redundancies. They would certainly not have borrowed money to pay staff to stay at home. CBILS should not have been thought of for that purpose.

The impending cessation of the furlough scheme will reveal the extent of this but the “cash back” bribe for keeping people on until the New Year  is a very crude instrument. It will be interesting to see in November whether it has been effective.

Additionally the 3 million small businesses that have received no help at all from Government during this crisis, will not welcome further tax rises when the Treasury seek to raise revenues to pay for the fiscal stimulus packages used at the height of the pandemic

For the long term, the pandemic has given us a huge opportunity to “rebalance” the economy, something that governments have been attempting to do since the days of Mrs Thatcher.

For an economy that became too unbalanced, away from science, technology and manufacturing, it has long been a goal to increase our manufacturing base, retain and prosper from our technology growth businesses, export more  and create high value jobs.

At the height of the “first” wave of the pandemic, manufacturing companies made herculean efforts to reinvent themselves as PPE manufacturers and produce ventilators from scratch demonstrating impressive cross-sectoral collaboration. It also exacerbated how vulnerable our “just-in-time” and overly long supply chains were when tested and proved that some core activities needed to be re-shored, at least to Europe. Work by Innovate UK and the Knowledge Transfer Network is certainly helping focus the sector on innovation and productivity and a revamped Industrial Strategy, looking at secure supply chains for products and services that make us as a society more resilient, must be the way forward.

However, the measures taken at the moment seem to wish for a return to the old way of doing things, based upon unsustainable consumption and consumer debt.

A race back to buying cheap imported clothes, getting our haircut and going to the restaurant/pub has taken priority. I can live with my foppish 80’s fringe which hasn’t been cut since February.

This race to consumption has even taken priority over schooling. This will come back to haunt us I’m sure.

Even the push to get people to stop working from home and go back to work seems to appear be not about sustaining the improving levels of productivity in the service sector, which have gone up through the embracing of technology. It seems to be more about supporting coffee shops and sandwich shops in City centres. My good friend Geoff Glover, former senior executive at Ford and Volvo summed it up pretty well on LinkedIn.

“This is purely being driven by concerns about workers not being in the city centres as consumers. It has nothing to do with individual health, public health or whether working from home can be economically productive. This is completely the wrong approach. It is like trying to force people back onto the horse and cart when cars have been invented, to save the cart makers.”

The elephant in the room is that  high streets need to be repurposed away from retail and that the commercial property market is in for a shake up for sure.

It’s worth remembering that most manufacturing businesses have continued production throughout the lockdown despite mixed messages from Government.

Particularly in the service sector, technology has enabled huge leaps forward in improving productivity and it would be a shame to lose this. The upside is that most firms realise this and want to strike a balance, recognising the needs for face-to-face teamworking and safeguarding mental health when this is finally over. Flexible working is with us to stay and it this helps solve some of the “productivity conundrum” then this will be welcomed. Gains in the service sector will be welcomed as, pressured by globalisation, manufacturing has been battling to improve for many years.

I should add at this point that I like a cup of coffee and a sandwich as much as anyone but if the UK economy has shifted away from this a tad, then we need to understand this and not try to retrace our steps. The key will not be staff working full time at home but achieving a more productive balance between the two.

A Conservative Government with a penchant for “propping up lame ducks” and expecting us to regress seems a strange thing to me, when sound “value adding” manufacturing and engineering companies with large societal impact have often been allowed to go to the wall.

This strategy of getting back on public transport (now publicly owned) to consume food and drink in city centres will not produce a “world beating” post Brexit economy for sure. The people in these sectors need higher value jobs that will be sustainable in the long term and maker a greater contribution to our economy. Even better if these jobs are distributed locally away from large city centres where nobody lives and time and money is wasted on commuting.

We have also missed an opportunity to address Climate Change.

Surely as a country we should be investing in technology such as home solar and energy storage  to “green” our economy, reduce peak loading on our electricity supply network and provide sustainable energy security to home owners? It also supports the roll out of the electrification of vehicles (I do prefer Hydrogen). Instead we are funding loft insulation, in a rushed initiative, until the end of March 21. Yes, our housing stock is still not as good as it should be but this technology would be of great help to many people both end users and those who will develop new skills. It would certainly move the country forward rather than back.

We have also missed an opportunity to strike whilst the iron was hot in peak lockdown, when car use was almost 90% below normal levels and the price of oil had collapsed. Some fiscal efforts should have been used at this time to cement the good things of moving away from the car to other means of transport. The  £50 grant to get an old bike back on the road is a welcome idea. The changes being made to road systems to make it safer for these new cyclists is essential. Additionally the rise of the e-bike makes cycling even more accessible. It will be part of the future of transportation. As Brompton Bicycles say “owning a Brompton is like having your own, personal flying carpet” and as a keen cyclist it certainly feels that way.

Being in the midst of the three Tsunamis of Covid-19, Brexit and Climate range has caused up monumental problems but even within all of this we need a Government that can keep an eye on the strategic ball.

The Government has the opportunity to address this and set out a way forward with the strategic reviews it will publish this autumn which include spending, defence and infrastructure.

Our lives have changed and so has the business environment and Government must respond accordingly to this test of strategic vision.

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COVID19 and the move to zero carbon

At the end of March 2020 the Daily Telegraph predicted that oil prices could go negative

In the third week of April they did.

As a consequence of this, CO2 emissions in the UK are dropping as consumption falls due to the COVID19 lockdown.

Gridwatch gives a live output of current CO2 produced from power generation

Interestingly, during the third week of April on a sunny and windy day, over 60% of our electricity was produced by renewables with a further 20% from Nuclear. This shows that we are well on our way on the journey to wean ourselves away from fossil fuels, especially with the move towards electrically powered and hydrogen fuelled vehicles. Home based working has had a dramatic impact on travel locally, along with the almost total collapse of passenger air travel.

Of course, it will be interesting to see what Government does as we slowly recover from the COVID19 crisis. With gas and oil prices at a historic low, it could be seen that it might a good time for HM Treasury to increase taxation. Firstly with consumers not driving around, allied to a drop in economic activity, CO2 emissions have dropped by over 5.5%.  Therefore a rise would probably not significantly impact the cost of living, taking into account some permanent impact on our behaviours and secondly, the increase would struggle to push the price up above pre COVID19 levels. It could be an easy and immediate win for Government to influence our consumption of carbon post COVID19. The targets set for the phasing out of fossil fuel based transport, including hybrids, has already made this a long term strategic view for business.

Allied to this of course is the effect that lockdown is having to our personal and working lives. As well as the impact on Co2 emissions, the level of pollutants has dropped dramatically in proportion, with a claim of over 11000 deaths being prevented in Europe alone Additionally,  Shell has cut its dividend to shareholders for the first time since WW2

The “Zoom” effect has certainly changed the way that people feel about video conferencing. People who have shied away from using this for business in the past, now have little alternative but to join in. Video calls certainly seem more engaging, more productive and actually shorter than conventional audio based conference calls too. Added to this I feel that we will now be looking a lot more closely as to whether we actually have to make that car journey or trip in to London, especially when we can engage face-face with someone.

When one looks at the Environmental, Social and Governance duties of business, undoubtably COVID19 has affected the Social aspect, with how business protects the workforce and engages with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. It will however certainly have an effect on the Environmental impact of business, which should, if managed strategically, have a long term impact for good.

 

 

 

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Level Up Industry

My colleague Ben Carpenter Merritt of Policy Connect presenting the findings of the Manufacturing Commission’s report ‘Level Up Industry’ in the outlining the steps required to level up manufacturing performance across the country and improve productivity. A big thank you in particular to Ben for all of his hard work in producing an excellent report and to Karan, Lord Bilimoria for his Chairmanship. Thanks also to our superb panel for the event and colleagues on the Commission. It’s a privilege to be a member of the Commission and looking forward to working the next report which will examine the challenges of net zero. The report can be found here https://lnkd.in/dR73U3m

 

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South East Dealmakers Awards 2020

As always a great night out  at the Insider South East Dealmakers Awards 2020. Very honoured to be asked to be a member of the panel of judges and to present the award to the Corporate Finance Advisory Firm of the Year. Well done Crowe UK. A big thank you to Philip Cunliffe and his team for running such a great event. hashtag#awards hashtag#insider

 

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Merry Christmas 2019

 

 

Wishing everyone a peaceful and relaxing Christmas break and hoping for a successful and prosperous 2020 for all colleagues, friends and their families.

 

A donation has been made to Oakleaf Enterprise – you can donate here

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Reflections on the Apollo programme

Last month rekindled a lot of childhood memories for me with the 50th anniversary of the first of the Apollo moon landings on July 20th 1969.

As a seven year old, the whole Apollo programme fascinated me and inspired me to pursue a career in engineering. Fortunately I was able to do some early work in the space sector at the beginning of my career. Dabbling with exotic rocket fuels and exploring what they could do was great fun and we had some exciting moments too. However I never did realise the ambition of a bespectacled seven year old to be an Astronaut.

During July the main TV channels showed some excellent documentaries about the topic. It was great to see one of my childhood idols James Burke back on the TV.

So often the focus has been on the brave astronauts who flew the missions but without the support of “tough and competent” engineers working under extreme stress the missions would never have happened.

However a couple of programmes really stood out for me. The BBC World Service Podcast series “13 minutes to the moon” was truly extraordinary. Giving previously unheard insights into the story of Apollo and those that made it happen. The development of the Lunar Module (LM) by aircraft manufacturer Grumman stands out- a tough assignment after designing the F14 Tomcat of “Top Gun” fame! The young engineer sent to add thermal protection to the LM when it was in situ on the top of a fully  fuelled Saturn V on the launch pad is a real eye opener.

 

Also the innovation of MIT building the mission computer for the LM is an incredible story. It was the first computer that was truly portable at a time when people boasted how big the buildings were that hosted their computer!

The Netflix documentary Mission Control- The unsung heroes of Apollo puts faces to the engineers who made the whole thing happen. It cover not only the moon landing of Apollo 11 but also the recovery from the tragedy of Apollo 1 and also the audacity of the Apollo 8’s journey around the moon, the well known mission to save the crew of Apollo 13 and the flick of the switch that saved Apollo 12 from aborting the mission shortly after lift off when a lightning strike disabled all of the screens at Mission control and caused chaos in the command module.

A good holiday read to get behind the story of the whole programme is Gene Kranz’s memoir “Failure is not an option” and yes- he’s the Ed Harris character in Apollo 13.

It was great to see on the Netflix documentary that two of the modern day Flight Directors at Mission Control Houston fulfilling the Gene Kranz role looking after the International Space Station are female.

I suppose for many of us there was a disappointment that the world of manned exploration ended after Apollo. Unmanned missions around the solar system have been incredibly successful and the rise of private sector projects such as SpaceX have created a new more economic source of heavy lift capability.

We may soon see visits to the Moon and Mars which will hopefully inspire a new generation of engineers.

For those who are interested in how the Soviets managed to get overtaken and lose the race to the moon they were so far ahead,  an alternative story can be found in the biography of the Soviet “Chief Designer” Sergei Korolev. Someone who was so important his name was kept secret until after his sadly premature death.

In my opinion he is a true giant in the world of engineering.

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RSM supported event at Rayner

I was very pleased to be invited to be part of a panel at a recent event organised by RSM at Sussex company Rayner, a specialist innovator and manufacturer of intraocular lenses.

The event consisted of a presentation by Rayner, followed by a factory tour and then a lively panel discussion.

I was very impressed with not only the production facility and the leadership at  Rayner but also their innovative products and strategic re-alignment following investment.

Their replacement lenses for patients with cataracts (which are injected into the eye under local anaesthetic) have a massive societal impact and genuinely transform lives.

They are also “servitising” the product creating annuity income streams.

A great model for successful British Manufacturing and thanks again to RSM for inviting me to participate.

 

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BEIS Industrial Energy Consultation

A very constructive meeting between BEIS officials, Trade bodies and manufacturing companies to discuss two schemes to reduce UK’s Carbon Footprint.

It was an interesting meeting which discussed how to improve the efficiency of high energy use businesses but also begin to tackle the “long tail” of low energy use small businesses. Thes businesses may only have energy costs of 2-3% of total costs but the sheer volume of them has a massive effect on UL energy usage.

Designing the Industrial Energy Transformation Fund

The £315 million Industrial Energy Transformation Fund will support businesses with high energy use to:

  • cut their bills and emissions through increased energy efficiency
  • transition to a low carbon future through the use of lower carbon energy and processes

This informal consultation seeks views and supporting evidence to help us design the fund. Its focus is particularly on the benefits and barriers to industrial decarbonisation as government has a good understanding of these issues for energy efficiency.

Details can be found here

Energy efficiency scheme for small and medium sized businesses

This call for evidence seeks views on various proposals for a new Business Energy Efficiency Scheme focused on SMEs.

We are keen to hear from anyone with an interest in how a new scheme for SMEs could be designed, including:

  • energy companies
  • network operators
  • SMEs
  • financial institutions
  • Energy Service Companies (ESCOs)
  • academics

SMEs account for 99% of UK business and have a very low awareness of the benefits of energy efficiency. The additional documents here provide summaries of findings from 2 projects which explored how to engage SMEs in energy efficiency:

  • Digital Discovery: funded by BEIS and delivered through external contractors (completed November 2017) considers the demand for a website targeting SMEs with information about energy efficiency
  • Digital Alpha: a 12-week project (completed July 2018) to build 3 prototypes with the aim of motivating SMEs to make a significant contribution to the 20% ambition

We have issued the government response to our previous call for evidence, Helping businesses to improve the way they use energy, in parallel with this call for evidence.

 

The link can be found here

 

 

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MakeUK/APMG Parliamentary reception

 

Rousing speeches  by Jonathan Reynolds MP Richard Harrington MP at the recent MakeUK APMG Parliamentary reception. An event to celebrate all that’s best about British Manufacturing and catch up with valued colleagues.

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Manufacturing Commission Inquiry

At the House of Lords recently with fellow Commissioners, Chair Lord Bilimoria CBE and Vice Chair Barry Sheerman MP to launch the Manufacturing Commission’s Inquiry “Making the Local Industrial Strategy work for Manufacturing”. An interesting and wide ranging discussion to set the scene. Policy Connect hashtag#manufacturing hashtag#policy hashtag#local hashtag#industrialstrategy

We have launched an inquiry which will explore how we can create Local Industrial Strategies that support manufacturing and respond to local needs, whilst addressing national economic priorities. We would like as many submissions as possible so please feel free to contribute. hashtag#manufacturing hashtag#thefuture hashtag#industrial hashtag#local

 


 

 

 

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