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Wake Up Call to Government – Ignored and Forgotten UK Engineering and Manufacturing Industries Deserve A Lot More Help Than They Receive By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.






BBC News headlines on its website Friday, Coronavirus could cost millions of tourism jobs, Norwegian Airlines to suspend half of its staff as virus spreads, shorts selling is banned, Eurozone central Bank tries to ease coronavirus crisis, Countries enforce mass closures to stem virus, US admits ‘failing’ on coronavirus testing, China and now Italy in lockdown and the virus has also hit tourism to Thailand and forgive me, a rather funny one on the BBC World Website asking the question whether female urinals are the answer to queues at public toilets.   

Meanwhile, we are told that no matter what, the first round of the French Elections will go ahead on Sunday virus or not. IN many countries schools and universities have already shut their doors for the term and the doomster amongst certain media are doing their level best to say that the National Health Service won’t be able to cope when Britain’s relatively small number of confirmed cases rises to levels in the thousands and will of course be called a pandemic.

True, it certainly isn’t going to be easy for anyone involved in the NHS and I feel for them as they struggle to cope. But they will get where they want and need to be in fighting this dreadful virus by hook or by crook and I am in no doubt whatsoever that Matt Hancock and his team of ministers are doing the very best that they can.  The Bank of England has certainly done its bit too and will probably do a lot more but halving of interest rates and with the government having now brought so many small shopkeepers out of business rates we should see rather fewer small shops failing to survive.

Little if any relief given by the Chancellor for large shops though and as far as I can see that is absolutely right. Take the multibillion food and grocery chains as an example, and who have grown through a combination of brute force and little finesse.

Put it another way would be to suggest that they have grown through a combination of greed and bullying and they don’ ever take prisoners. Yes, food is sometimes cheaper because of the battle they have chosen to fight with other High Street competitors but if I am honest and given the huge environmental damage they have often done through using plastic packaging containers for almost everything `and failing to operate any kind of reverse buying back of finished glass containers, their record in the environmental message game is frankly even worse than China’s is to pollution.

Cruise ships have already suffered hard and I predict that it will probably be ten years or more before they grab sufficient numbers if passengers willing to take the risk. No better in the airline industry and with flybe now very sadly now gone to where failed airlines normally go, I fear that little now can be done, Other airlines across the UK and Continental Europe will undoubtedly follow suit – no names, no pacts drill, unless of course, governments decide to prop them up. The good news if there is any at all to be had is that with so many flights now cancelled and planes put into storage, the environmen6tal targets set for two or three years-time have probably already been met! Assuming there isn’t a major breakthrough with the virus in order to slow it progression down and maybe, found a vaccine, we may imagine that in IN three to four weeks-time I would suggest that the number of flights taking off or arriving at Heathrow Airport may be closer to a half from that of a month ago.

The common denominator running through this thread is that all the businesses and business activities is that along with banks, insurance and financial services, all the business activities are service based businesses  meaning that they essentially, they don’t design or manufacture anything  meaning they bear little is any comparison with what the Chancellor set out to provide positive benefits to those charged with raising funds.

Britain still has some very great engineering and manufacturing companies engaged in building sizable components such as Ford with engines in South Wales, our aerospace and defence companies stand out if the international crowd and are justifiably proud of what they achieve. For the most part – yes there are some exceptions – They receive next to no help from the Department for Trade and Industry although if they export some assistance is available.

For the car companies, excepting Jaguar Land Rover which has in my view been treated very badly by the Government but which at the very least maintained a reasonable UK supply chain of sorts, east manufactures and a handful of others such a Rolls-Royce and (despite buying engines and many other component parts  from Germany and which we I should remind is own by BMW just as Bentley Cars is now owned by Volkswagen and is yet another gluing  the big luxury brand cars together in Cheshire and not forgetting the BMW MINI and two small but not easily forgotten car manufactures such as Morgan Cars and Bristol Cars, in short, when the so-called Japanese transplant operations set up shop here in the 1970’s and 1980’s and never attempted to build a UK supply chain, it is reasonable if not wholly true to say that all of them merely glue together cars in the massive shiny factories they have built in the UK from imported foreign parts.

The same is true for Chinese companies such as Geely Corporation which swooped up the rest of London Taxi maker Manganese Bronze ten years ago have flooded them out with rotten steering gear that in some instances caught fire and quickly led to the then British companies collapse. Geely then bought the rest including all the IP for nothing including remnants of Birmingham Small Arms (BSA). IT isn’t just the Japanese and Chinese that are good at doing this – I am hard pressed to think of a single important component that comes out of the Vauxhall assembly plant stable in Cheshire that has UK origins!

MY point as I listen to BBC business reports and to our politicians of all parties is that, apart from preliminary and interim results should the broadcaster be short on something to talk on I almost never hear anything discussed on BBC radio business slots and even less those on BBCTV about engineering and manufacturing companies which are, as far as I am concerned the lifeblood of our future in regard of the innovative designs and potential world leading technology that they are also charged with producing. The same has to be true for Pharmaceutical companies, civil engineering companies and other.

Some UK owned and operated food manufacturing companies survive of course but when it comes to oil and gas BP and Shell being two big exceptions, most of the oil and gas industry is foreign owned. NO matter about that – the same is true in the aerospace and defence industry but the big difference here is that foreign owned companies such as Thales, Raytheon. Leonardo, Lockheed Martin, Airbus, Boeing and some others invest large sums here in the UK – sums that prove that they are investing for their own future.

British based defence companies such as BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Babcock International, QinetiQ, Cobham*(about to be consumed by an American company), Meggitt, Marshalls of Cambridge, MBDA, Ultra Electronics and others are also to be highly respected for huge amount of investment that they put into their products and facilities in order that they have the chance to lead rather than follow and importantly, export.  

Think of almost any electronic household name selling goods in the UK, the vast majority of goods sold in UK retail outlets, much of the food we eat, gas we use to cook with and steel used to build big bridges in Scotland over the Forth and as likely as not, apart from meat, fresh English greens, eggs, milk and dairy goods, my guess is that the majority of whet we buy to eat comes from abroad.

WE need to be designing, engineering, manufacturing a vast amount more than we do and which represents but a tine element of what we all consume. of what we consume. I am generally very pleased with what the Tories are doing on most things so far and their handling of the COVID-19 mess with one exception – that of defence which quite frankly, the government neither wants to understand. Or likely ever will until the enemy is at the front door. I am far from happy about the damage that the government is potentially doing to brilliant aerospace industry as well by pulling us out of EASA. What a crass ill-thought out judgement from someone in the NO 10 confines this certainly is.

CHW (London – 13th March 2020)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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