Place your bets

For those of you not averse to a modest long-term flutter, here’s something to think about.

If you had to bet on it, which of the following would be seen in years to come as more significant to the eastern fringes of Greater London – the investment of £1bn by Ford into the development of advanced automotive technologies at Dagenham and Dunton, or the choice of the Millennium Dome to house the UK’s first ‘supercasino’?

Or how about this one. Which would have the greater long-term impact on Sheffield ­– the creation of a world-class manufacturing research centre in conjunction with big global names such as Boeing, or the city playing host to the UK’s answer to Caesar’s Palace?

The importance being attached to winning the race for the UK’s first super-casino is a depressing sign of the times.

London, Sheffield, Manchester, Newcastle and Cardiff are some of the UK locations queuing up to offer a Las Vegas-style array of ways to win (possibly) or lose (probably) in state-of-the-art surroundings.

The regions bidding for the super-casino are talking up the opportunities on offer in terms of regeneration, jobs, and international profile.

All the virtues, in fact, that should be applied to a major world-class engineering, technology or science facility, or a flagship global manufacturing plant.

Leave to one side the morality or otherwise of gambling and the political circus whipped up by the presence in the saga of the Millennium Dome, John Prescott and American tycoons.

That we should be salivating over the prospect of one vastly overgrown bingo hall shows the extent to which the development of the service sector has seized the popular imagination when it comes to the economic agenda of the UK.

It would create jobs certainly, but mainly unskilled and modestly paid ones. Regeneration? Well possibly, but of a pretty localised variety. It’s hard to imagine a super-casino engendering a regional cluster of specialist suppliers. Playing card manufacturers and cocktail mixer training academies are not going to flock to Cardiff if its number comes up in the great casino lottery.

Developments such as those mentioned earlier in Essex and Sheffield, by contrast, offer pretty good odds on bringing rather more in the way of tangible rewards – a local skills base, value-added employment, significant inward investment and a reputation of global expertise in its field.

You can’t really blame the contending regions for wanting to host the super-casino, but let’s keep some perspective here. In the UK, we have become too used to assuming that it’s the service sector or bust for our economy.

That would indeed be a gamble too far, and it’s time that our considerable potential to be a player at the table of world-class engineering and technology enjoyed some time in the bright lights.

Andrew Lee


The Engineer & The Engineer Online