Torsten Bell’s opinion piece is compelling and, as always, well argued (“Why be a poor version of Germany instead of doing what we do best?”, Comment). It worries me, however, that he seems to rule out the wider development of the manufacturing sector. Surely a lesson learned from the pandemic is that the UK, indeed the west in general, has “outsourced” too much of its manufacturing to China and Asia.
By all means let’s follow Mr Bell’s war cry and concentrate on those parts of the economy at which we excel. But let us also develop a manufacturing sector that could deliver good jobs, and a viable pay packet for those working poor who are struggling to survive in the gig economy, not to mention opening up apprenticeships for young people who do not fancy college or university. Let’s incentivise entrepreneurs who are prepared to set up small factories with tax breaks and financial support to recruit and train a new labour force, including apprentices.
Herstmonceux, Hailsham, East Sussex
Torsten Bell asserts that manufacturing is not our forte and that the UK should focus on its service economy in developing future economic policy. The UK does indeed have strengths in its service sector but it also has an equally strong manufacturing base.
Gone are the days of dark, dirty factories and poor-quality consumer goods production. Manufacturing today is based on world-leading advanced technologies. As the world’s ninth largest manufacturing nation, the UK has expertise in areas such as aerospace, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, space, life sciences and chemicals. The sector accounts for half the UK’s exports and two-thirds of R&D spend, which is crucial to developing the very high-value industries and highly skilled jobs that the economy will need in the future.
A successful economic strategy should indeed focus on the UK’s existing strengths but also sectors of the economy that will thrive on accelerating technologies, harnessing the strengths of our academic science base. We have passed the stage of debating whether to focus on services or manufacturing: there can and must be room for both in a successful economy.
Stephen Phipson, CEO, Make UK
Manufacturing is the main driver of the nation’s innovation and productivity. It also has a strong regional dimension, being six times more important to the Midlands economy than it is to London. Jobs in advanced manufacturing are highly skilled and pay higher wages. So-called “traditional” sectors, like ceramics, are now key parts of the UK’s lead in materials science and its applications. Supporting manufacturing capability will be critical in levelling up and in shaping the new sectors and jobs of the future.
Professor Phil Tomlinson
Lower taxes, more inequality
All Conservative leadership contenders are promising lower taxes sooner or later but they are ignoring illuminating research by LSE and King’s College London (“After the coup, the contest that will expose faultlines in a fractured party”, News). Reducing taxes on the rich, it shows, has no significant effect on economic growth or unemployment but just leads to higher top income share and therefore income inequality. Governments seeking to restore public finances by, as all contenders claim to want, growing the economy, should however not be concerned about the economic consequences of higher taxes on the rich.
Right now, with low or no growth, further borrowing or austerity, which is Rishi Sunak’s preference, would be required to pay for those tax cuts. But, as none will own to borrowing, poor people, aid and the environment will once more suffer.
Paying the price of lockdown
Martha Gill’s article on the harm caused to young people by the lockdowns comes as no surprise to many (“Evidence grows of lockdown harm to the young. But we act as if nothing happened”, Comment). A friend who is a child psychiatrist spoke to me several months ago of the emerging tsunami of mental health problems that he was witnessing. A key sentence in the article is this: “It [lockdown] came of necessity” – but did it? Our authorities made a moral choice, on behalf of society, to prioritise the needs of elderly people over young, and those who disagreed were dismissed as cranks or callous libertarians. As Gill says, we conducted an unprecedented social experiment on our young, without their consent.
This highlights the way in which public health exists in a different ethical universe from the rest of medicine. In standard medicine, you cannot force a treatment on your patient without their consent – and in seeking their consent you are obliged to tell them of the possible side effects of the treatment, and to be honest about the balance of risks. In the public health response to the pandemic, there seemed to be no such balanced ethical consideration; in fact, there was a seemingly deliberate policy of being vague about the actual risks of Covid and harms of lockdown, and allowing fear, guilt and censoriousness to encourage compliance with the control measures. Young people are now paying the price.
Dr Aodhan Breathnach
Further to Martha Gill’s observations that recent university intakes are exhibiting immaturity, including a propensity towards bullying, her call for research into the impact of Covid on all young people is indeed pressing. Our charity, Barefoot, provides youth work for young people aged 10-19 in three deprived communities in Plymouth. Our most recent intake – predominantly 10 to 12-year-olds – are wilder than any groups we’ve experienced. Retarded levels of maturity, less self-control and less care for their own wellbeing have all become apparent to youth workers, who are no strangers to these traits but soon notice when things get demonstrably worse.
Add to that the lockdown legacies of increased levels of dangerous sexual activity among older teens and antisocial behaviour rocketing when youth workers were deprived of face-to-face contact and you have a cocktail of trauma that is bound to affect these young people’s futures.
Solutions? Widespread research and a realisation that young people don’t just exist in school. They need more youth work support and they need it now.
Richard Marsh, director, Barefoot
Vanity of vanities
Stephanie Merritt’s proposal that all celebrities, whether from politics or entertainment, should be required to publish their novels under a pseudonym would have the backing of many lovers of decent fiction (“It’s not true that everyone’s got a book in them: give writing back to the writers”, Comment). I would go further. Any celebrity submitting a manuscript to an agent or publisher should not use their own name and should refrain from exerting any influence. What would happen, I suspect, is that very few would get published at all, thus ridding the world of this particularly irritating variant of vanity publishing.
Chichester, West Sussex
Preston’s finest? Not so fast
Re “From Ashes hero to class warrior: Freddie Flintoff, a true all-rounder”, Profile): your sub-heading has got it wrong. “Preston’s most celebrated son” is of course the incomparable Tom Finney.
July 17, 2022 at 10:57AM Guardian Staff