Archives for posts with tag: China

As Steve Beauchampé writes in the Birmingham Press and Political Concern, generations of an elite have ruled this nation (with a few intermissions) for as long as anyone can remember, due to a rigged electoral system.

Their dual achievements:

  • comfortable tax arrangements for the few, a political/corporate nexus which ensures highly paid and nominal duties for all in the inner circle
  • vast military expenditure bestowed on the arms industry, as rising numbers of the population survive in relative poverty, wait in hospital corridors, receive a sub-standard education and depend on handouts to eke out their existence.

Direction of travel

Beauchampé:(The) economy is increasingly kept afloat by the economic support of China . . . The modern high-rise residential blocks that have sprung up throughout the capital may give the impression of a modern, flourishing economy, but look closely and you will see that many are all but empty, whilst homelessness and a reliance on subsistence level housing grows . . . “He notes that surveillance is at an historic high with spy cameras, and even microphones installed in many public places -describing the state’s ability to track the population and follow their activities and conversations as ‘frightening’. . .

The elite stranglehold could be broken

OB’s editor agrees with many that electoral reform is a priority for beneficial change – but even under the rigged ‘first past the post’ system, if the weary mass of people (Brenda of Bristol)  saw the true situation they would vote for the candidate with a credible track record who would be most likely to work for the common good.

 

 

 

 

Received from Steve Beauchampé today:

“Don’t do stupid stuff.” was Barack Obama’s foreign policy advice. The British Government clearly wasn’t listening.

It is highly probable that in the coming days the House of Commons will vote decisively in favour of the UK extending air strikes against Islamic State into Syria.

Within hours of the vote Prime Minister David Cameron will likely appear, standing behind his big lectern, solemnly informing the nation that military action has begun. And yet another futile British middle-eastern military gesture will be underway.

david cameron lecternCameron’s case for Britain joining air strikes against Syria is based on emotion and hubris, not rationale:

  • We must go to war because France wants us to,
  • because Cameron remains bitter and frustrated at losing the vote to bomb the sovereign government of Syria in 2013,
  • because without bombing Britain might have a lesser voice in international talks to resolve the Syrian civil war,
  • and because Cameron can’t quite play at being Churchill if we’re not a fully paid up member of the fight club.

Speaking in the Commons last week Cameron claimed that British air strikes would help pave the way for a coalition of around 70,000 ground troops, consisting of Kurds, Sunnis, tribal groups and militias opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to defeat Islamic State.

“the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

The Prime Minister, and the Tory hawks that bray support for his arguments, has either forgotten, or chooses to ignore, that this is precisely the strategy that failed so calamitously in Libya in 2011. Then Cameron assured us that ousting the Gadaffi regime from Benghazi and eastern Libya would result in pro-democracy groups taking power. It never happened; overrun by jihadi militias, Libya is now a failed state and home to a flourishing Islamic State franchise and those democracy campaigners that have not been killed or joined the exodus of refugees are either in hiding or lying very low indeed. As Albert Einstein said: “the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Despite such a sage warning from history, and the repeated advice from respected military strategists that his plan is unlikely to work, the Prime Minister persists, blindly ignoring the fact that the supposed 70,000 troops he is relying on to do the fighting for him are drawn from around 80 different religious and tribal factions, often divided in their objectives, and in some instances already fighting each other. They include organisations which themselves are accused of committing atrocities and other human rights violations. And Cameron expects these disparate groups to put aside their differences and come to the aid of the west just as a $500m US programme to train and arm moderate opponents of Islamic State and Assad has been closed down after failing spectacularly.

“England expects” poorly trained, equipped and battle weary locals to undertake the combat, be captured, tortured and executed

Yet for all his blarney about the evils of Islamic State and their threat to Britain, the Prime Minister’s commitment to defeating the group is at best half-hearted.

Cameron argued last week that Britain could not outsource its national security countries such as France and the United States, yet – terrified of the consequences on public opinion and morale of British casualties – he is unwilling to deploy British troops to fight Islamic State, preferring instead to outsource the fighting, capture and deaths to others. So Britain sends in unmanned drones and RAF fighter planes flying at a safe height out of reach of Islamic State, whilst expecting sometimes poorly trained, equipped and battle weary locals to undertake the combat, be captured, tortured and executed. This when the very existence of Islamic State is partially due to the calamitous mess created by Britain’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 (something Cameron fully supported and continues to defend) and our subsequent backing of Nouri al-Maliki’s fatally divisive Iraqi Presidency (2006-2014). How very colonial, how very imperialistic.

Further, David Cameron omits from his equation President Assad’s army and the considerable military support it receives from both Russia and Iran. Because if Islamic State is defeated in Syria then Assad’s forces will probably have proved pivotal and will expect to fill the subsequent power vacuum. What will the Prime Minister do then, as Assad’s forces retake Aleppo and Raqqa, buoyed by Russian air power?

Yet defeating Islamic State may be wishful thinking. Britain has been bombing them in Iraq for fifteen months during which time they’ve taken and held the country’s second largest city, Mosul and relinquished precious little territory elsewhere in the country. Talk of relentless attacks on the group by successive governments, from Jordan, Japan and now France have proved to be largely bluster, and transferring some of Britain’s limited military capability from Iraq to Syria is unlikely make any discernable difference there. Islamic State’s leaders long ago developed strategies to limit the impact of missile strikes, not least on themselves.

Add to this the strong possibility that attacking Islamic State substantially increases the likelihood of radicalising a small core of British and European-based Muslims and fuelling support for a group that has proved itself immensely skilful at propaganda.

With this comes an increased likelihood of a successful large-scale terror attack in the UK. Given that the Prime Minister’s argument for attacking Islamic State in Syria is to protect British citizens it is incongruous of him to dismiss the increased likelihood of an IS inspired United Kingdom terror attack as a result. Were he to be honest he’d say that the loss of innocent British lives is a sacrifice that he’s prepared to make for the greater good… and sorry if it’s you or yours.

If we had listened less to Blair and Cameron, and more to Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and the wise heads of the SNP . . .

Since Tony Blair signed Britain up to join what became the war on terror in 2001 the threat from Islamic extremism has increased enormously. The Middle East is now a considerably more dangerous place than it was, with several failed states and lawless regions, whilst the scale and regularity of planned terror attacks in Europe and the western world has risen exponentially. If we had listened less to Blair and Cameron, and more to Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and the wise heads of the SNP, things might not have got so bad.

The grand coalition of Arab nations that were to play a leading rôle soon melted away

When the bombing campaign against Islamic State began, the promise was of a grand coalition of Arab nations that would play a leading rôle. They soon melted away, perhaps knowing that it would not be long before the usual western allies would step in, allowing their collective ambivalence to Islamic State to continue.

Canada has recently withdrawn from the coalition whilst savvier states such as Germany, Spain, China and India recognise the folly and the depressingly predictable pointlessness of constant military intervention in other regions’ wars and so keep well away. In contrast Britain’s Prime Minister and those politicians who so readily support him can be sure only that yet again they will be proved wrong, even though most will deny against all evidence that this is so.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that there are much more effective measures that Britain could take to combat the horrendous ideology and effectiveness of Islamic State.

If a group of activist civilians working under the guise of Anonymous can quickly disrupt Islamic State’s internet and social media presence then one wonders just what our own national security services could achieve with their resources. Or what Britain could contribute if its fully used its expertise and leverage as a global financial centre to collaborate with others in tracing Islamic State funding and heavily sanctioning those who knowingly assist in its financing. Or most crucially the progress Britain could make by applying diplomatic pressure on those whose ambivalent attitude (or worse) towards Islamic State has helped keep the war going, countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Turkey.

But then none of these measures would make for good newspaper headlines or compelling television. Much better to watch British warplanes blowing stuff to smithereens on the 10 O’clock, sit back, puff your jowls out and feel Churchillian.

bcc china logo

SME Koolmill Systems Limited and Slough-based Hanovia were joint-winners of the UKTI sponsored GREAT British Product award at a gala dinner in Beijing opened by Sir Sebastian Wood, British Ambassador to China.

koolmill 3

Koolmill has identified the need for a new technological approach to cereal milling and have pioneered the development of a radical disruptive technology set to transform a massive globally significant industry. Millions live daily with food and fuel poverty and for more than 3.3 billion people rice is life. Existing technology dates back over 100 years and wastes power and rice. Koolmill IP is truly innovative, delivering power savings (up to 80 per cent) and maximising the food return from a finite and valuable natural resource. Koolmill technology will make a significant contribution to a more sustainable future for the rice industry globally.

Working closely with its Chinese JV partners, the low-power, simpler Koolmill process brings potentially zero emission cutting edge technology to all millers regardless of size or location. Its super-efficient displacement technology will make a positive impact on the lives of millions. Koolmill is a UK SME making a difference.

koolmill 1Koolmill Managing Director, Alec Anderson (right)

Peter Bloxham, Chairman PFB Associates noted “As one of the five judges for this particular award I can say that all the judges were very impressed by the product and by their efforts to develop it in China because of limited support in the UK.

I believe that this revolutionary milling system for rice and other grains is the equivalent to Dyson and the vacuum cleaner.”

Read an excellent account on http://www.concurrent-engineering.co.uk/koolmill-case-study/.

david bailey 4Professor David Bailey, an expert on West Midlands manufacturing, has been appointed as Aston Business School’s professor of industrial strategy.

He has acted as a special adviser to the House of Commons Select Committee on the West Midlands region, presenting to a number of select committees and All Party Parliamentary Groups.

In a Post article he says that he intends to continue working on the areas of research pursued at the University of Coventry.

Some readers will particularly welcome his interest in the region’s supply chain, low carbon vehicles and ‘re-shoring’ – “how far it has gone and how we can encourage more”. They might even remember our coverage of this work a year ago.

Re-shoring, onshoring

As Peter Davies, chairman and founder of Smethwick’s Professional Polishing wrote, “It is great to see that there is a new buzz word around – onshoring! To bring back production of certain items from overseas, particularly China, will be a slow process but as there is now only a small cost advantage to producing in China this will become an option that is considered more and more”.

Low carbon vehicles

After some disappointing years it has been pleasing to note that several large auto manufacturers are now developing electric cars.

police electric car fleetAt the world’s biggest car show in Frankfurt, electric cars were heralded as one of the leading trends, particularly for ‘fleets’. In May, West Midlands Police took a three-year lease on 30 electric cars.

Stop press:

Iceland’s government has now encouraged greater uptake of low carbon vehicles by pledging that 10% of all transport fuel will be eco-friendly by 2020. It is considering hydrogen, methane and electric cars.

In due course, Professor Bailey might be interested to see how this is working out.

wouter schuitemakerbusiness birmingham logoReinforcing the theme of the forthcoming meeting at Mira, Wouter Schuitemaker (right), the investment director at Business Birmingham, says that manufacturing companies are to hire more staff to cope with an expected surge in demand caused by a re-shoring of production to the UK. He points to some findings of a survey by Business Birmingham and YouGov, but as yet no link to this report has been found:

  • 32% of senior decision makers from the British manufacturing industry who use overseas suppliers said their business planned to source more components from UK companies over the next five years.
  • 51% plan to boost production capacity in the UK in the next five years
  • 56% said they were likely to hire more staff.
  • 59% cited rising costs overseas.
  • 51% cited simpler transport and logistics

Smethwick manufacturer Peter Davies recently wrote, “it is great to see that there is a new buzz word around – onshoring! To bring back production of certain items from overseas, particularly China, will be a slow process but as there is now only a small cost advantage to producing in China this will become an option that is considered more and more”.

The FT notes a couple of examples:

  • Symington’s, a Leeds food company, moving production of noodles back from Guangzhou to Yorkshire
  • and the main distributor of the $35 Raspberry Pi computer shifting production back from China to Wales.

Research by Trigon Diligence into clothes manufacturing indicates that for more expensive jeans or shirts, it is now cheaper to base production in the UK than in China or other Asian production centres such as Bangladesh and India.

Factors include:

  • high but hidden costs of buying goods from suppliers in Asia at fixed prices which have to be sold at large discounts because customers have moved on to the next trend;
  • UK plants are quicker to respond to requirements for new designs;
  • labour and transport costs in Asia have gone up.

As Wouter Schuitemaker points out, re-shoring manufacturing can help to rebalance the economy, create new jobs and cut the trade deficit.

blair birmingham 05Government, which has been feverishly promoting the global trade in food to the advantage of middlemen and speculators, may now be revising Tony Blair’s Birmingham Chamber of Commerce reported reference to manufacturers as ‘dinosaurs’.

Grown on the coat tails . . .

A somewhat condescending assessment of the West Midlands manufacturing is made by Christine Hamilton, of the UK Trade and Investment Board, the government’s export promotion body: “Smaller companies’ exports have grown on the coat tails of JLR and others”.

E&Y acknowledges that manufacturers have invested

An optimistic forecast in an Ernst & Young report, the West Midlands ‘economic recovery’, covered in the Financial Times yesterday, by John Murray Brown, gives more credit to manufacturers: “Over the past 15 years the region’s goods exporters have invested in competing at the niche manufacturing end of automotive and engineering sectors and this is now paying dividends,” said Sara Fowler, senior partner in Ernst & Young’s Midlands office.

For a year SME manufacturing success in the West Midlands has been recorded here, many of the firms being family owned and run – exporting indeed and investing in new machinery, but retaining their home market instead of placing total reliance on export orders.

graysons thermal systems logoOne example, given in the FT by Aishah Minister, was Grayson Thermal Systems, a Birmingham-based manufacturer of electric fan drive cooling systems for buses, agricultural and military vehicles. We were already supplying every single bus manufacturer in the UK. To keep growing we had to export”.

Attributing the success to a spin-off from the region’s large automotive companies who source components locally, the FT article continues: “China, already the region’s second-most important export destination, is forecast to overtake the US to become the West Midlands’ biggest export market in two years, according to EY”.

It fails to mention the encouraging return of manufacturing from China – ‘onshoring’ – obviously not an achievement of the government’s export promotion body.

Read the article here- free registration: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/33e70640-05af-11e3-8ed5-00144feab7de.html#ixzz2d3kyHW8d

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Peter Davies, who inspired the setting up of the West Midlands Producers’ website, writes:

Peter DaviesI grew up in post war Britain, accustomed to rationing and shortages in a period when consumer items – if available at all – were generally ‘Made in Britain’ and proudly stamped so. Growing up in the back streets of Birmingham we had little in the way of possessions but we were given a work ethic that said ‘if you can’t afford it you can’t have it’ and ‘if you’re well enough to go out you’re well enough to go to school /work’

So, where I am I going with this?

Basically we seem to be developing a society who expects to take without giving back, where necessities are the latest smartphone or iPad and expectations are that ‘someone else’ must put the money in the pot to maintain this benefit culture. We quite regularly see people on TV who complain that their six bedroom expenses paid house isn’t big enough and they feel they don’t have enough benefits. Individuals need to take responsibility for their actions and direct their income first and foremost to the essentials of life. Pay the rent/mortgage, buy the food and then cater for luxuries. There are plenty of opportunities out there for anyone prepared to work.

Change the culture of ‘soft options’

I guess the first thing for Britain to do is to change the culture of ‘soft options’ whether it be in the perception that we [the UK] are a soft touch for everyone or whether it is the emphasis on ‘soft’ business. At long last Government seems to be recognising that manufacturing is essential to wealth! For many years there has been a view that we don’t need to make anything and this has been perpetuated by the vast number of ‘parasitic’ businesses that abound. Media, consultancy, recruitment, health and beauty, marketing, IT, accountancy, no claim – no fee lawyers. The list is endless.

A new buzzword around – onshoring!

As a SME owner for the past thirty years I have seen at first hand the fall from grace that was manufacturing. At a Chamber of Commerce meeting some years ago Tony Blair referred to manufacturers as ‘dinosaurs’ illustrating the then Government view. In the past couple of years though there seems to have been a much more positive view of producers from the Coalition and it is great to see that there is a new buzzword around – onshoring! To bring back production of certain items from overseas, particularly China, will be a slow process but as there is now only a small cost advantage to producing in China this will become an option that is considered more and more.

Difficult as it is we can all play a small part by actively buying British in preference to imported goods

It might take a bit of effort but it is surprising how much we do make and how much effect we can have by being a bit selective. Often it turns out that the British product is cheaper and almost certainly better than foreign goods.

My own company was formed in 1983 following redundancy. I had very little money, a mortgage, a wife and two children. My wife supported the idea of setting up our own business; we put our house as security against an overdraft and crossed our fingers. The risk was high but, in common with most owner managers, I worked long hours and was everything from machine operator to salesman to accountant. We actually made a trading profit in our first year, something almost unheard of. Solid cautious growth has taken place over the last thirty years with the occasional knock back as yet another recession bit. Progressively by investment in people, plant and property we have increased in size, numbers employed and are now market leader in our industry.

In the eighties there seemed to be a view amongst ‘the workers’ that bosses were rich and came from moneyed backgrounds. That may be true of some but most I have known have put their whole life into developing a business which pays little more than a medium earner in the public or financial sector. To put things totally in perspective, we are the biggest company at what we do; employ 20 people and yet our turnover is about the same as the salary of a building society director!

We go back to the work ethic and the ethos of wanting to succeed at what you do.

I am nothing special, never wealthy, not terribly well educated but I had a desire to succeed and learnt as much as I could on a practical level in my jobs leading up to the formation of our own company. I consider that I have been lucky but also an effective manager creating the legacy of a solid company which is well respected and provides employment for a good number of people some who have been with us for many years. We have had some success with apprentices although we have lost some who obviously don’t see work as a priority. One girl had her mother phone us to say she wasn’t coming in as it was snowing. It was pointed out that everyone else had got there on time and she was most surprised that she was expected to attend.

Our daughter took over the role as managing director about five years ago and continues to grow the business with great enthusiasm. It is interesting to look back on the changes over the years in the way business is done. When we started, customers expected regular visits [ideally around lunchtime] whereas now with heavier workloads, longer hours and less people we rarely see customers and the message is promoted by social media, blogs e-mails etc.

Media doom and gloom

Despite the media doom and gloom we have seen growth of around 20% year on year since the crisis of 2008, have invested heavily and look to invest more in the coming years in both plant and people. We look on the future as an exciting challenge helping British companies to manufacture their products in the UK.

If there is a moral to this story it is that, even today, there are opportunities for anyone to be good at what they do.

If you are a road sweeper, be proud to have the cleanest street in town; if you are a bus driver be the smoothest driver, the friendliest face, if you are a businessman [or woman] be the most honourable and ethical person you can, in other words always give of your absolute best.

The mind set of ‘take’ has to stop in the Britain of today. With the lead of Government, parents and educators we need to encourage work as a norm not an exception. Not everyone can be a pop star or a premiership footballer but an approach of giving of your best rather than a shallow ‘take what you can’ attitude must be good for the individual, their employer and eventually for Britain. In particular, there is a bright future for anyone who is prepared to go into 21st century manufacturing. It may not be overly glamorous but can always be interesting and challenging and sometimes very rewarding.

john clancyThe West Midlands New Economics Group looks forward to hearing and questioning invited speaker Cllr John Clancy, on Saturday, April 6, 10.15-12.00 AM, FOE Warehouse, Allison St, Digbeth. This is a public meeting, open to all.           

The discussion will probably be city-centred, but John Clancy’s experience in the world of venture capital has informed a devastating critique of hedge funds  – “better described as ‘Edge Funds’ as they often operate at the edges of the market, of regulation and, indeed, of the rule of law “ – and some pertinent advice to China’s leaders.

His proposals are consistently directed towards building up the economic and social well-being of the city’s people – particularly the less prosperous. For years he has advocated the use of Brummie Bonds – “a confident act of economic diversification” to community shares and bondsfinance big projects, offering the average person a more satisfactory savings deal. This would be a ”local sourcing of local wealth to invest in regional business and infrastructure”  – instead of individuals, companies and UK pension funds moving funds abroad – but designed on more inclusive basis than the Transport for London bonds. On a smaller scale there are now hundreds of examples of community shares and bonds, information here.

Small and medium businesses at the heart of a rebalancing and relocalising economy

Manufacturing is coming back to the city as the trend to outsourcing is reversing, with wages rising in Asia and the increasing cost of transporting goods. In a videoed address to the council, Cllr Clancy advocates halting the allocation of industrial land to office and retail building, in order to meet the industrial needs of this rebalancing and relocalising economy. Instead of continuing to build global retail, financial markets and office space, a more economically and socially successful city would be built from thousands of small and medium businesses.

Cllr Clancy deplores the situation in which contracts for services, which could have been provided by local small and medium sized businesses, are awarded to ‘outside’ corporates like Capita, Serco, Amey, G4S and VT.

Unemployment

Another videoed address last year recorded his focus on the city’s long-term unemployment ‘iceberg’ – up 49% during the last 12 months – which might well be increased by the decision to move the wholesale markets, “the city’s most long-lasting SME cluster”. Cllr Clancy asserts that the council’s treatment of the markets has impaired the vision of a global city with a local heart, again proposing less emphasis on the global and more on the local, placing the wholesale markets at the heart of Birmingham’s economy.

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Earlier this month, before the report on the markets was available, he described the decision to move the wholesale markets out of their city centre site, as a ‘momentous, colossal mistake’, with catastrophic knock-on effects on the retail markets. He warns against “perpetuating the “old” regime of big business, big finance, mega-retail, big commercial property that got us into the mess in the first place”

Cllr Clancy has focussed on “this hapless government’s LEP creation in the city” which has failed to show “courage and foresight and originality”. Instead of seeing the city’s markets as key to the future and planning for massive investment in the quarter, the council has borrowed £125 million for massive buildings of commercial property – a gamble, with any losses underwritten by the city’s taxpayers.

Change on the horizon?

In this week’s Post (28.3.13, not yet online) he notes with satisfaction that the case for bonds and local investment, which he has been making for several years, is now gaining ground. Greg Clark, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, has said that he would like to see city banks taking deposits from local people and meeting local investment opportunities and that government is working to lower the barriers to entry. The Labour Party is also ‘throwing its future weight’ behind the policy of regional development banks.

Many of these subjects will be debated and discussed on Saturday.