Buying British makes good economic sense

I’m about to buy a new car. And in doing so I will end an 11-year devotion to VW – my next car will be a Rover. The success of Phoenix in taking over Rover ended a dilemma. I’d intended to buy a British-built car this year, having rather shamefully not even considered the importance […]

I’m about to buy a new car. And in doing so I will end an 11-year devotion to VW – my next car will be a Rover.

The success of Phoenix in taking over Rover ended a dilemma. I’d intended to buy a British-built car this year, having rather shamefully not even considered the importance of my present one’s origin a few years ago.

Phoenix’s deal also sealed a pact I made with a friend who works in a large energy company as the Rover drama played out. We pledged to buy Rovers if Phoenix won the day because we wanted Longbridge to survive as a mass producer and also because we’d then noticed that we actually liked the new models.

Rover and the doom that faces Dagenham have pushed the issue of buying British up the agenda. And it is industry-wide. Ask trade secretary Stephen Byers, who was last week lambasted for wearing a South African suit as he promised help for British textiles.

The Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union is currently renewing its Buy British campaign, writing to company chief executives and public authorities to question their procurement policy.

Buying British is something we have traditionally cared about in crisis but largely ignored from day-to-day. We may care that Marks & Spencer suddenly sends its business overseas but then praise the Consumers Association for telling us how to import cheaper cars.

That is probably because buying British is associated with pure patriotism rather than business rationale and ensuring a balanced economy.

But as Sir Ken Jackson, AEEU general secretary, argues, purchasers can be inspired to negotiate to buy British.

Although public bodies are duty bound to seek good-value deals, there may not necessarily be a need for Birmingham City Council to have bought Peugeot vans made in France when LDV is in the vicinity. It is hard to imagine the same situation in France, where nearly two-thirds of new car sales are of French-built vehicles compared with just 28% in the UK.

A few days after Phoenix bought Rover I met my friend from the energy company in the presence of his chairman – the closest person to Reggie Perrin’s CJ I have ever come across in my experience of business executives. He didn’t get where he is today by saving ailing car companies.

But he was just as enthusiastic about Rover as we were, saying he thought the takeover was great and wishing John Towers every success.

More organisations, particularly manufacturers and their representatives, would do well to follow the AEEU’s lead and not be afraid to shout about backing Britain.

Christine Buckley is industry editor of The Times

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