Ford and Jaguar Land Rover rue the day when the UK voted to leave the European Union. They now back Theresa May’s withdrawal deal because they would prefer their supply chains to face as little disruption as possible. With the clock ticking towards the 29 March departure date, both companies have warned of the consequences of a no-deal Brexit.
All that said, the job losses announced by the two companies had precious little to do with what’s been going on in the UK over the past two and a half years. No question, Brexit is something they could do without, but it is much less significant than the four big structural issues facing the global automotive sector.
Issue one is the fact that there is a global glut of production. There are too many companies, too many plants and too many models. Squeezed profit margins in an ultra-competitive European market is the reason Ford is closing a plant in France and weighing up whether to continue with a joint venture in Russia.
Issue two is China, which has been a major growth market for JLR (and other companies) but has just announced the first fall in car sales in two decades. Beijing is expected to announce within weeks government-backed incentives to boost consumer demand for cars and for the industry they can’t come soon enough.
Issue three is diesel. Companies invested heavily in diesel as a more climate-friendly alternative to petrol, only to find consumer demand plunging when the VW emissions-testing scandal raised concerns about nitrogen oxide pollution. Nine out of 10 JLR cars are diesel powered.
Issue four is the need to cut costs to invest in the new generation of electric cars, a process that has become even more pressing as a result of Dieselgate. That JLR has announced plans to produce electric drive units in Wolverhampton powered by batteries from Hams Hall in Birmingham helped sugar the pill of job losses. It also showed that there is life after Brexit.
Nothing new in the UK’s adult education failings
The report from the Whitehall department was blunt: Britain’s system of adult education was not up to scratch. Improvements in skills training were needed to help the population cope with rapid technological change and to allow citizens to assess rival political claims.
Those were the findings of the Ministry of Reconstruction’s adult education committee in 1919 and over the past century it is striking – and depressing – to find how little has changed. The latest adult education survey from the Office for National Statistics says some of the most vulnerable people in the UK have the least access to the training and education to boost their career prospects.
Britain’s failure to take lifelong learning seriously has long been a source of economic weakness. Too many workers struggle with numeracy and literacy: higher education doesn’t really prepare students for the future world of work; further education has always been the poor relation of the system. These deficiencies will become even more costly in the age of artificial intelligence.
The 100th anniversary of the 1919 report has been marked by the setting up of a centenary commission that will publish its report on the challenges facing adult education in November. The fact that it will be the latest in a series of high-level studies going back not just to the aftermath of the first world war but to the mid-19th century tells its own story. The problem is not that there has been a shortage of ideas for improving adult education. It is that the many weighty reports have been allowed to gather dust.
Now Europe’s not very happy with China, either
In George Orwell’s 1984 the world is divided up into three superstates – Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia – two of which were always at war with each other at any one time.
Fiction is now becoming fact. The trade cold war between Washington and Beijing is thawing but now the Europeans have started to turn nasty. Germany’s BDI – an industry lobby group similar to the UK’s CBI – says it is time for Brussels to take a much tougher line with China’s state-dominated economic model.
Among the 54 separate demands, the BDI called for the EU to lobby for the opening up of China’s markets, measures to prevent the theft of Europe’s intellectual property rights and an end to the dumping of cut-price Chinese steel.
European policy makers were quick to condemn Donald Trump’s protectionist stance but seem to have learned lessons from it. Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.