September 2010 Archives
Three key themes have emerged from my Birmingham Post blogs in recent months on the coalition government's rabidly anti-regional stance and somewhat unseemly haste to scrap RDAs.
One is that LEPs are likely to lack real powers given that much of what we current see as regionally delivered industrial policy will head back to Whitehall. Secondly, there will be a huge cut in support for the English regions outside of London; and thirdly LEPs risk being fragmented as local authorities fail to join up with business into functional areas but rather whatever local political deals can be stitched up by town hall bosses.
Surprise, surprise then that business secretary Vince Cable has just said that most of the 56 bids to form local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) received by the government - after the summer scramble to meet the ridiculously tight deadline for submissions - are simply not good enough.
"You re-design an icon at your peril," said Charles Morgan recently at a Visiting Design Lecture at BIAD, having wowed us all by arriving in a Morgan Aeromax. "We started by asking what makes our cars the icons they've become?"
Morgan drew up a list encompassing their prestigious heritage. It included 100 years of glamour and speed, a unique driving experience, customisable vehicles, drawing on new sustainable technologies and lightweight materials, a craft focus on its handmade skills and authenticity, the retention of core expertise through vertical integration, an interaction with and a focus on the environment in a business driven by its family ethos and values.
From these roots Morgan has recently been able to launch some notable radical innovations making the auto industry sit up and take notice, illustrated convincingly by the Aeromax and LIFECar.
Needless to say I am much heartened by news that GKN has replaced the now acquired Tomkins in the FTSE100 index.
Not that, having watched (FH) Tomkins since way back in 1983, when Greg Hutchings bought into what was then an ailing Midland based button and buckle manufacturer and spending the next 15 years turning this into a sizeable international conglomerate, I am particularly pleased to see yet another familiar name drop out from what remains of the engineering company list.
Nevertheless, GKN is something else and, with necessary apologies for pinching of the Riley Motor Cars motto, the words 'as old as the industry, as modern as the hour' apply, in my view, equally well to GKN.
Hear hear, Professor Lord Bhattacharyya. The good Lord at Warwick Manufacturing Group has warned us that if we don't focus our efforts on our manufacturing businesses, led by our premium manufacturers like Jaguar Land Rover, it will be a disaster for the region.
Even after the restructuring of the past decade or so when manufacturing has halved as a proportion of GDP to around 14% of our regional economy, manufacturing is still the largest sector in terms of its value added contribution amounting to 27% of our GVA.
We're enjoying a renaissance in luxury automotive as well as lifestyle brands with global reputations - think of Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin, Morgan Motor Company, Triumph, London Taxi, Aga, Rayburn, Rangemaster, Pashley...well, it's a list I've made before.
A wiser man than myself used Twitter a couple of weeks ago to proclaim:
"Wow! The Pope's going down the Hagley Road in his Pope Mobile. I hope the girls in Spearmint Rhino put on an open-air show for him."
That wise man (@josephbush) hit upon one of Birmingham's peculiar juxtapositions. The city is deservedly regarded as an impressive performer on the international stage - the admirable handling of the papal visit further confirmed that.
Simultaneously, the city also seems to be aiming for world domination in terms of a different stage. The type of stage trodden by barely-clad women with adopted monikers such as 'Amber,' 'Storm,' and 'Desiree'.
No, I'm not referring to another 'Gladiators' revival at the NIA. I'm talking about an area of industry that our leading business newspaper covers regularly here. And here. Hang on a mo - it's here as well.
It's almost as if the Birmingham Post wants its readers to start a debate. So let's start it: why is Birmingham so in thrall to lap-dancing clubs?
Having taken a short break from blogging, I'm returning to the fray with what I hope is an upbeat message - despite the frankly awful prospects of government announcements in October. So, to the awful bit first. I get the impression from the various polling and public opinion sampling that the general mood in the country is not completely opposed to government spending cuts on principle. But there does seem to be opposition when people are asked what they think about reductions in the services they personally get from government. Perhaps the whole thing is too abstract at the moment but it is going to become only too real come October when the announcements are due. Psychologically this seems to be a case of self interest with people being fine about pain so long as it involves other people but less enthusiastic when it affects us personally. Or maybe it has more to do with not yet knowing what the impact is going to be. It is some sort of economic phoney war currently which is likely to have it's Dunkirk moment soon.
Well, you'd have thought Vince had crossed the floor of the house and set up a coalition with Marxist Milibands.
We'll see what he has to say, but overnight reaction to Vince's widely pre-trailed attack on Capitalism has verged on panic. They don't like it up 'em, Mr. Mainwaring.
In reality Vince is just another convert to this blog's recurring critique of the way Big Business Capitalism inherently crowds out competition. And how SMEs, the lifeblood of business, are rarely able to compete on a level playing field.
"Markets are often irrational or rigged," he says. Careful, now. They don't like it up 'em, Vince.
One of his aides explained further, "Capitalism left to its own devices just creates monopolies which work against the interests of consumers and inflict severe damage on the wider economy."
Vince is right: Big Business Corporate capitalism hurts the consumer, more often than not. While, on the oher hand, small and medium-sized businesses serve the consumer and adapt to the consumer's needs, more often than not.
Renewable energy must be here to stay, because organised crime is trying to get in on the act. It was only a matter of time.
Over the last couple of weeks green energy in Italy has taken on something of a dirty tinge.
Awash with generous grants and subsidies, it was perhaps inevitable that the Italian renewable energy sector would attract the attention of the mobsters.
"People don't buy products anymore because they need them, they buy them because they love them."
These words could have been spoken by any of our great West Midlands businesses - Jaguar Land Rover, Aga Rangemaster, Aston Martin, Morgan Motor Company, Pashley Cycles or Brintons Carpets...companies wrestling daily to re-invent their much-loved classic brands.
It may strike you as a statement of the blindingly obvious but, according to Professor Roberto Verganti of Milan Polytechnic and Copenhagen Business School, it hasn't been fully grasped by many businesses and Business Schools around the world who are focussing on user-centred design and ideas-generated innovation rather than 'radical design innovation' to generate increased sales and profits as well as customer loyalty.
Peter Walker, Communication & Marketing Director at Lang Contractor, shared with me a story that happened some time ago: