There’s an excellent article in The Daily Telegraph of April 7th by Chris Cummings, Chief Executive of TheCityUK , a lobby group for services. Mr. Cummings laments the fact that the competitiveness of British industry doesn’t seem to feature too strongly in the election campaign. As UKIP’s Industry Spokesman, I’d like to respond.
Mr. Cummings writes primarily about services, and outlines the UK’s strengths – time zone, language, legal system, openness for FDI, ability to attract talent. In a message for the next government, he also urges a stable tax environment and enduring political support for business. But strangely, he has little to say about the constant interference by Brussels, and in particular the Bonus Cap and the proposed Financial Transaction Tax, which could have been designed to make Europe in general and The City in particular less attractive to global businesses.
But when we come to the wider question of industrial competitiveness. Mr. Cummings mentions only very briefly several factors which are vitally important: energy prices, over-regulation. And UKIP has an important contribution to make on that key point of “the ability to attract talent”. Yes, the UK has been successful in attracting highly-qualified professional people to London – Cummings says there are more French bankers in London than in Paris. But we’re also allowing in very large numbers of unskilled workers who certainly put huge pressure on social cohesion and social infrastructure – schools, housing, the NHS — and may well become a burden on our welfare system.
Contrary to the caricature, UKIP does not want to “stop immigration”, or “pull up the drawbridge”, but we do want manageable numbers of skilled people, not unmanageable numbers of unskilled people (as we have at the moment, courtesy of the EU’s “Free Movement” principle). We want an Australian-style points system. Consider: which brings more benefit to the UK economy – a highly qualified software engineer from the Commonwealth, or two unskilled Eastern Europeans?
Then regulatory costs. Peter Mandelson once estimated that the costs of EU regulation amounted to 4% of GDP. But highly-respected economist Tim Congdon, in his masterly publication “How much does the EU cost Britain?” suggests 5%. Patrick Minford in an independent assessment came up with a similar figure. But Tim Congdon also estimates the cost of misallocation of resources at over 3%, and the total cost of Britain’s EU membership around 10% of GDP. This is a vast and unnecessary deadweight cost which radically undermines UK competitiveness.
Then let’s turn to energy costs, not included in the Congdon analysis. Our gross over-commitment to intermittent and unreliable renewables, driven by Brussels but gold-plated here in the UK, has given Europe energy prices which are broadly speaking double those of major industrial competitors (excluding Japan). That is simply unsustainable. Energy-intensive businesses across the EU are closing plants and moving jobs and investment to more competitive locations. Steel, aluminium, glass, cement, chemicals, petroleum refining. As a consequence, jobs are lost, imports go up, and our balance of payments, already dire, deteriorates further.
And the bitter irony is that frequently these industries go to jurisdictions with lower environmental standards, arguably resulting in increased global emissions. This is not a mere scare story from a euro-critical political stance. DECC itself, in a report commissioned from Vivid Economics, found that imported refined petroleum products (more and more of our petrol and diesel is coming from America and Russia) implies a 35% higher level of emissions than if it had been refined in the UK. Maybe Ed Davey would like to try to justify that. It takes a genius to create an energy policy that undermines competitiveness, while at the same time increasing CO2 emissions.
UKIP has rational solutions in all these areas. Secure and affordable energy based on tried and tested technologies – coal, gas, nuclear. An immigration policy focussed on quality, not quantity. And when we leave the EU, a bonfire of unnecessary regulations. Of course government needs to provide the infrastructure – physical, IT, educational, fiscal – that industry and investors need. But beyond that, we believe we need less industrial strategy, fewer “initiatives”, more emphasis on removing the barriers. We don’t need to teach the grass to grow. We just need to get the rocks off the lawn.