KAG Blog

How Britain can make more ‘things’

Posted on: August 2nd, 2012 by Richard Raw No Comments

Now is not the time to panic, but for the private and public sector to invest long term in skills and – preferably green – technology

The finishing touches are added to a Bentley

The finishing touches are added to a Bentley, one of the UK manufacturing brands enjoying an uplift in volumes. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Data published today has shown that the manufacturing sector shrank at its fastest rate in more than three years in July. Naturally, this is disappointing news, but it is essential we keep our perspective: in 2010 and 2011, manufacturing grew 1.9% faster than the whole economy and the present contraction is much lighter (actually 75% less in scale) than the “great recession” that began in Q4 of 2008.

That should not mean complacency – rebalancing the economy so we make more “things” in Britain is absolutely critical to achieving long-term and sustainable economic growth – but explains why we shouldn’t panic. We need to be aware that confidence is critical to avoid the downturn spiralling into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The worst thing that could happen at this point is that industry stops investing in the technology and skills needed to drive innovation and growth in the UK.

Let’s be clear: in order to rebalance the economy, this country would need to achieve the biggest restructuring in a generation. It will not happen quickly or automatically, and co-ordinated action from the private sector and government is absolutely vital.

So far, I am largely positive about the UK’s plans and activities. But it’s too early to see the real effects – manufacturing generally has stalled because of the pressures of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe, and the marked slowdown in China. The latter exacerbates the problems on the continent because China is a key importer of goods made in Europe. Fiscal policy in the UK is also playing its part reducing demand, and lack of liquidity is still a critical issue for the British supply chain.

But while these are significant headwinds, they are not permanent and there is plenty to be optimistic about in the UK. Domestic demand is surprisingly good, retail sales are up 1.6% year-on-year, and lower inflation is a boost for our sector – and employment is up, which in turn will help boost demand.

We should also be proud that we have some great UK manufacturing brands, for example in car making, Jaguar Land Rover and Bentley – the latter up 30% on volumes in the first six months this year compared with last.

There are also endless opportunities from greening the economy: the renewable technology market will be of immense benefit to UK businesses. The government needs to stay consistent and supportive with subsidies and regulation and must be actively engaged in this market so we reap the benefits in terms of skills, R&D and inward investment and ultimately a strong supply chain capable of exporting in large numbers.

We are encouraging investment in modern and sustainable production technologies which make an important contribution to energy savings and improved productivity, boosting competitiveness – all essential for the growth of our manufacturing supply chain. Our investment in advanced manufacturing catapults – centres of excellence that bridge the gap between business, academia, research and government – are already becoming a great vehicle to support this.

We are supporting technical apprenticeships in higher numbers, which is encouraging, though we should accept that results will take time. Germany, which has been on this journey for decades, invests almost a third more than the UK manufacturing sector in capital plant machinery and automation. Our skills system is not yet up to the challenge of providing the labour required to support enough manufacturing growth in the UK.

We must work harder with the government in programmes encouraging R&D and innovation, in upskilling young people, creating more apprenticeships – so that our sector can grow but also so that we can play our role in reducing the number of young people – currently one million – unemployed in the UK.

From government we need policy consistency and a clear strategy for growth areas, such as offshore wind energy. We need stable policies to support manufacturing that chime with a long-term vision of how we want the UK economy to look not just in five years but 25 years too. I’m pleased that exactly this project has been begun by the coalition and I hope this will be realised into more than just a glossy report.

Action needs to be taken now to make the most of the economic recovery when it arrives. As a country we must invest more in skills and in technology to make our manufacturing sector world beating in terms of knowledge, innovation and productivity – underpinned by a consistent industrial and energy policy from government.

A failure to stay consistent with this action over the next two decades will cost the UK an incalculable amount in lost growth, jobs and opportunities.

Source – The Guardian

Majority of car owners struggling to cope with rising costs

Posted on: July 25th, 2012 by Richard Raw No Comments
Motorist fills car with petrol

Motorists cite ever-increasing petrol costs as the main source of their frustrations. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

High fuel costs, surging insurance premiums, badly maintained roads and continuous roadworks are forcing motorists to change their driving habits, according to research by Motors.co.uk.

Its latest survey found 75% of drivers were frustrated by the rising costs of owning a car, with nine out of 10 citing escalating prices of petrol as their main complaint. Another 71% were put off by the countless potholes and neverending roadworks plaguing local roads.

Many of those polled said they were leaving their cars at home as a result.

The online poll of 2,669 adult motorists found that four in 10 are cutting back on time spent on the road and looking to public transport (20%), walking (32%) or cycling (5%). Others looked elsewhere to trim costs, such as reducing their grocery bill or cancelling gym memberships.

Another 71% believe that government policies are not on their side, despite the postponement of a 3p-a-litre rise in fuel duty in June. Originally planned for August, the tax hike will now not be implemented until next January.

Phill Jones, Motors.co.uk’s commercial director, said: “Not only are drivers tired of the cost of driving, they’re exhausted by the state of the roads, maintenance of which has badly fallen by the wayside.

“The number of consumers cutting back on driving is frankly alarming, and it is imperative that both the government and the local councils do all they can to get Britain back on the roads.”

Petrol prices are moving upwards again after a 10-week slump. After bottoming out at 130.81p a litre on 1 July, average petrol prices at the pumps in the UK have rebounded to 133.12p a litre, according to the AA, which expects prices to climb even further over the next two or three years.

The average cost of motor insurance rose by 2.1% for the three months to the end of June, according to the AA Insurance Premium Index. Some insurers policies, however, are cutting prices to stay competitive.

In late 2011, a survey conducted by the AA found that 76% of its members were cutting back on car use, other spending, or a combination of the two. Its findings have also shown that the average costs of owning a medium-sized family car rose from £5,519 a year in 2011 to £5,983 a year currently, based on 10,000 miles of driving.

AA spokesman Luke Bosdet said that consumption is expected to continue to fall as petrol prices remain volatile. “It’s been going on for so long that it is now a mindset amongst drivers and businesses to reduce fuel consumption.”

The Department for Transport’s national travel survey also shows that each driver clocked up an average of 3,376 miles a year in 2009 and 2010, down from 3,679 miles in 2004 and 2005. In that same period, public transport use rose from 722 miles to 745 miles.

Danny Connolly from east London, recently switched his golf club membership from Kent to one nearer his home to save on petrol. “At the end of the day, I couldn’t afford it,” he said. “It was costing me more for petrol than the golf membership.” The window cleaner, who makes three trips to the golf club a week, was spending £120 a month on petrol. His golf membership cost £100 a month.

Connolly, a divorcee who earns about £35,000 a year, has also cut down on the number of times he visits his children in Essex. “The cost can really add up. It’s insane,” he said.

Millie Plinston, an architect who lives in London, will be visiting her mother in Dorset by train next year. The train journey to Dorset and back, she said, costs £20. The same trip by car costs double that. “We use the car minimally,” said Plinston, who does not drive to work. “Next year, when my daughter is older, we’ll be travelling to Dorset by train instead.”

Original source – http://www.guardian.co.uk/

Direct Line admit their mistake – a year after the accident and only with help of Daily Mail

Posted on: July 18th, 2012 by Richard Raw No Comments

D. B. of Woodford Green, Essex writes:

More than a year ago, a stolen vehicle crashed into my car while I was driving — I ended up in hospital.
The car hit two other vehicles before the thieves abandoned it and ran off.
The police report states I am not at fault.

Despite this, insurer Direct Line says I am.
It has increased the cost of my insurance and I have lost my no-claims bonus and been forced to pay a £250 excess.

The Traffic Criminal Justice Unit has a two-book report on the incident available to Direct Line.

Direct Line has chosen not to look at this, and has made its own conclusions.
It has even said the police are only giving their opinion and that it knows better, even though there are eyewitnesses.

At 76 years of age, being accused and threatened by my insurer has left me at my wits’ end.
It has even said that the thieves could make a claim against me for up to six years.

The Daily Mail’s This is Money column responds:

I’ve seen plenty of cases where insurers have tried to dodge a claim by relying on small print.
But this is one of the few I’ve ever come across where they have refused to accept solid facts and the word of the police.

To doubt the word of one of their customers is one thing.
But to ignore eyewitnesses and a Criminal Justice Unit report beggars belief.

Direct Line should be thoroughly ashamed of its behaviour. And it is.

It seems that rather than accepting the police version of events, it chose, instead, to rely on the report of a garage engineer, who was not even there!

An embarrassed Direct Line spokesman told me:

“Our investigation has concluded that the service provided to Mr B. was not up to the usual standard our customers have come to expect from us.

“Due to the unique circumstances of this claim, more should have been done for Mr B. to support him after such an incident.”

Direct Line has quite rightly apologised.
It is refunding your excess and amending your policy to show this was a no-fault claim.
It is reinstating your no-claims discount to the same level it was before the incident.
And it is sending you a cheque for £300 as a gesture of goodwill.

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