Getting the budget right is more critical than ever

It is now down to the economists to mull over whether the (modest) hand-outs announced by the chancellor this week could still risk overheating the economy.

It is now down to the economists to mull over whether the (modest) hand-outs announced by the chancellor this week could still risk overheating the economy — at the cost of needing higher interest rates to cool things off, which in turn could put the dampers on investment and stoke up the value of sterling again.

This would be the worst case scenario. And it could easily swamp the effects of some of the more useful measures detailed in Gordon Brown’s speech on Wednesday.

In a sense, getting it right for manufacturing industry this year is more critical than ever — and has nothing to do with the election. In fact, most of the manufacturing heartlands have very sizeable majorities on one side or the other, and the numbers of marginal constituencies that could be lost or gained by industrial policy — or lack of it — are relatively few.

This year is more important because it looks like being the first chance for several years to build on a healthy outlook for engineering.

So far, despite the downturn in the US, many UK engineers are holding their own. In fact, all the latest forecasts suggest we could weather this storm pretty well, helped by a bouyant market on mainland Europe.

Alongside that, we have the satisfying prospect of seeing many of the dot.com companies reaching for the self-destruct button. This is not just a case of vicarious pleasure. It means that investors can begin to return their attention to the engineering and manufacturing sectors, where you can still find world-class technology-led companies: in fact, those very same operations that were being written off as ‘old economy’, but which have managed to retain some good old-fashioned values such as cash generation and earnings. The results for Rolls-Royce, and even smaller operations such as Meggit this week, just go to bear this out.

All in all, then, plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Let’s just hope that winning an election doesn’t get in the way of a strong manufacturing recovery.