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European Scene: October 2011

Doom, gloom and self-inflicted crisis

October 31, 2011  By John Roper

Never mind Greece, never mind Spain or Italy, or, for that matter, the
U.S.A. – which is big enough to take care of itself – the U.K. is going
to hell in a handcart.

Never mind Greece, never mind Spain or Italy, or, for that matter, the U.S.A. – which is big enough to take care of itself – the U.K. is going to hell in a handcart. Ask anyone: the economists, the politicians. (Well, some of them. Half say they are rescuing us; the rest say the other half are making everything worse.) Ask the renta-gobs we hear on the BBC. Economically, we are doomed.

That is the opinion we hear from all of the commentators, including not a few journalists. Facts, real facts, are hard to come by, and if they are positive, not generally reported. Anecdotally, companies in the window and glass business that I talk with seem to be doing not badly. According to the Confederation of British Industry’s August Industrial Trends survey, manufacturers are enjoying healthy order books and improving expectations for the future. I have not heard that reported anywhere. Was I just not listening or was it drowned out by the doom-mongers?

Furthermore, Glenigan, which monitors and reports trends and activity in U.K. construction, says in a current report it has recorded a 15 per cent increase in the underlying value of planning approvals over the six months to July 2011. Alongside this, the Office for National Statistics has reported an increase in investment by private manufacturing firms in new building work. This has resulted in a 36 per cent increase in project starts over the three months to August compared to a year ago. While admitting that the increase is from a low base, the Glenigan report boils all of this down to an overall six per cent year-on-year increase in the value of construction starts.


So why are we not hearing about this? Why is only the negative reported?

I end up with the impression that there is a will to push us into a recession, to damp down confidence. Perhaps it is not so puzzling, because it is very political. Some of the politicial commentators want to damage the government. The renta-gobs and economists get paid for interviews and, for the media, good news just does not cut it. Most of the commentators do not have a clue about the real economy and how things work. For years we have been asked to accept that trading bits of paper was a valuable thing to do, that we could have a sound economy based around service and financial trading. The problem with that is that you cannot. A sound economy has to be based on stuff. A former chancellor of the exchequer (our version of a finance minister) sold all of the U.K.’s gold, and a subsequent prime minister closed down our coal mining industry, and generally wrecked manufacturing, so that our money became based on nothing but bits of paper. When, 10 years ago, we got a socialist government that was pretending not to be socialist, the paper traders must have thought it was happy holidays. Couple that with the Labour party’s tendency to create loads of non-productive and expensive public-sector jobs and the economy faced a 10-year downhill race.

At present the public sector is being cut back viciously. Note that everything mentioned by Glenigan, the CBI and ONS relates to private-sector work, so, while it may be small in real terms, it has some solid worth. And it will include a lot of glass, hardware and windows. Good news for the industry.

What we now need urgently in the U.K. is a massive house-building program to get first-time buyers on the property ladder. This would have the effect of unlocking savings and getting consumer spending started again. Once that happens it should be good news all the way.

John Roper is the editor for The Installer, The Fabricator, The Conservatory Installer and Glass Works magazine published in the U.K.

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