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European Scene: December 2011

Where little recessions come from


December 15, 2011
By John Roper

I’d like to write about something else, I really would. I know I have
covered the topic before, I know we are all really bored with it but I
can’t avoid it

I’d like to write about something else, I really would. I know I have covered the topic before, I know we are all really bored with it but I can’t avoid it. It is an obsession, it keeps banging in my ears like an irritating tune. I can’t get away from it, every time I turn on the radio someone is going on about the bloody recession!

OK, so who’s recession is it anyway? Well, I reckon that it is the government’s recession.

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Though I suppose in a democracy that has to make it the people’s recession. At a recent press-fest held by Roto Frank in Prague (they do this every year, 2010 Barcelona, 2011 Prague) the CEO, Dr. Eckhard Keill, spoke at length about the world economic situation and he pulled no punches blaming governments worldwide for causing the problems (or failing to stop them). “Now,” he said, “the people have to suffer to put things right.”

On the other hand, Roto is predicting its own continued growth Europe-wide. Poland is even exporting windows to Germany. There is an old English saying about taking coal to Newcastle; it amounts to much the same thing. So while everyone else is suffering, or so we hear, Roto is shipping hardware and looking to ship more in 2012.

And that hardware is going into windows and doors. I spent a couple of days recently visiting a few window manufacturers, albeit large operations. They were all very busy, so you have to ask, “Where are all these windows going?” Someone is buying them. And there are some pretty fancy products being made as well: folding-sliding doors are a hot ticket item right now. They are very good doors too to go between your house and the conservatory.

And there’s another thing. Conservatories – people are still buying them, mostly at over 10,000 pounds a go as they are also buying lots of high-spec entry doors.

We all believe the gospel, we know there is a recession going on, the government and the BBC say so, so it must be true. But when I look at our own industry I can’t help thinking it must be going on somewhere else. As I said earlier, someone, somewhere in this bleak, overspent, recession-ridden land has the money to buy the products. Lots of the products.

In the U.K. we do have two problems: parasitic industries and an over-blown public sector. We just got over 13 years with a socialist government which, as they will, expanded the public sector, apparently thinking they were creating real jobs. On top of that we have burgeoning security and health-and-safety industries, neither of which do anything to create wealth. Indeed, all three simply leech on the productive, manufacturing industries and, sometimes, make it difficult for them to do their jobs.

To its credit, the present coalition government has been doing its best to reduce the public sector. Not easy when we, the public, have been fooled into thinking that all of the new agencies were important. They have unravelled some of the ridiculous health and safety regulations, as well – not enough but it has made a start.

(This is how ridiculous it gets: I read recently about an inquest on a woman who had fallen down a flooded mineshaft. The emergency services determined that it would breach health and safety rules to winch her out, so she drowned. The fire chief in charge determined that the operation was a “success” because none of his own crew had been injured.)

And I haven’t even started on the regulatory bodies. These organisations, private businesses all, have been set up to make sure that manufacturers adhere to standards and regulations and charge them for the privilege of being registered. I can think of six which regulate the window industry and glass trades. And they even have their own regulatory body: the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).

If anything is likely to send the U.K. window industry into recession it will be paying for that lot.


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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