Once again the Capex Scoreboard has shown the extent to which the UK is falling behind on investment. The asset base of machinery, equipment, instrumentation and buildings in most of our manufacturing industries is already substantially less than in most of our international rivals. And the rate at which we are investing as a nation is slower than similar sized industrial economies. So the gap is widening.
From a policy point of view, we are heading for crunch time. The Government is promoting measures that will encourage industrial investment – but will this be enough? Possibly not. And if it is not enough, does this imply lack of moral fibre on the part of reluctant industrialists, or on the part of government? Are industrialists failing to bite the bullet and invest, or is the Government failing to understand the incentives required to make this happen?
If the low investment trend continues, the risk is that policy makers toying with the idea of other incentives to boost capital expenditure will start to believe they are in a futile, Canute-like position: attempting to hold back waves of change that will inevitably see our economy’s share of manufacturing industry decline. If that dangerous idea takes root, industry will be out on its own, and appeals for further incentives or assistance will fall on deaf ears.
There is a way through this. It will now be up to us, as people working in manufacturing industry, to get across to the opinion-formers the vibrancy of our industry, and the potential that could be unlocked if the economic circumstances were right.
And that goes for The Engineer, too. On January 7 2000, we relaunch with a substantially new circulation, a regular weekly frequency, and distribution to selected news agents. We will bring you new content, in a new package, with more relevance, available to more readers. All this, so that we stay at the centre of a debate that could affect all our livelihoods.