Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Why we need state-owned industry

In the Telegraph, defence correspondent Thomas Harding muses over a competition to find the next "tank" for the British Army. He actually means APC - to be fair he does say that in the text, but the headline is highly misleading - and goes on to list the requirements.

The armoured vehicles, to be used by 55 per cent of the Army, will be able to carry soldiers to the battlefield, patrol in cities, provide command posts or ambulances and later be developed into light tanks.

It says something about the state of our defence industry when he lists the main competitors to build this "tank".

Despite the millions already spent on the Future Rapid Effects System, there will be no main British manufacturer for the vehicle which will carry eight soldiers and three crew.

Instead German, Swiss-American and French designed prototypes will be tested until a final winner is decided in November.

I'll make no comments about the quality of these vehicles - I'm sure they are all very good - but what a damning indictment of the British armaments capability that we have to go to foreign suppliers for our basic APC requirements.

These vehicles should be built by British workers in British factories using British materials. If there is no capability to produce the vehicle then it is the job of the government to ensure that there is. I know it's "state intervention" and I realise I'm advocating a state-owned company, but it is vital for our nation to retain an independent defence capability.

The government should create or obtain a company to build this vehicle to MoD specification and should stipulate that all materials and components are made and sourced in Britain. This would mean British steel, British electronics, British weapons - all of which would mean British jobs for British workers in other industries and in companies which are not state owned.

What is more, because these vehicles need to be designed and engineered, it would mean a demand for engineers. This would create a market for skilled graduates from university and, perhaps mean a few less "media studies" graduates and a few more mathematics, physics and engineering graduates. High quality armour needs design and engineering too - as do weapons, electronics and so on.

Forming British companies to provide the weapons we need to equip our armed forces is the most obvious way for a government to "create" employment and wealth - as well as create a market for skilled workers and graduates.

It's a much better use of our tax money than employing smoking cessation officers or recycling snoopers. It has a trickle down effect to the economy which will boost employment and skills - and that has to be good for everyone. Most important of all, it will mean we are not beholden to any other nation for the equipping and supply of our armed forces.

Sure, it's state ownership of an industry, but I'd rather our defence capabilities were owned by our state rather than someone else's.

1 comment:

Sir HM said...

I've long considered that all "strategic" industries (by that I mean all the industries required to fight a war, alone) should be government owned, or at the very least entirely British owned and physically located within these islands - so that their production can be directed if necessary.