Tuesday, May 05, 2009

GM's woe is our opportunity

I've remarked on here fairly often that I believe the government needs to do more and be more active in ensuring that we have a decent manufacturing base - particularly with major industries. Well, with General Motors looking to offload it's European division they have the perfect chance.

They've been only too happy to nationalise struggling banks, underwriting massive losses while doing nothing to stem the bonus culture that still pervades that industry - why not do something similar for an industry which not only produces tangible goods, but pretty decent ones at that?

If it were up to me I'd have the government buy up Vauxhall Motors. If that meant acquiring Saab as well - so be it - but I'd offer that back to the Swedish government if they wanted it. I'd then set about bringing production of all models back to the UK.

I know a lot of people would think this a return back to the bad old days of state owned car manufacturing in the seventies - but don't forget that the biggest problem with British car manufacturing in the seventies was belligerent union militancy.

Yes, I know there was also management incompetence, but - as our current government demonstrates all too well - you can not legislate for incompetence. What you can do is learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure you don't make them again in the future.

I wouldn't envisage Vauxhall staying state owned for ever. As soon as practicable I would sell it off - with a provision that it remains in British ownership and that production remains in Britain. It's not just the thousands of workers jobs at stake in the Vauxhall plants - there are the support industries, dealerships and communities which would be devastated by the loss of Vauxhall.

It would probably cost the taxpayer far more in the long run to lose Vauxhall than it would to buy it and keep it going. Car manufacturing may be going through a sticky period right now - as it did in the seventies thanks to the oil crisis and various legislation around the world - but it will recover.

GM's problems give Britain a fantastic opportunity to acquire one of Europe's leading car manufacturers and make them British again. I don't think it is an opportunity we should pass up.

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