We talked about challenges Brexit puts in fronts of us last month, and how we can twist them to see opportunities. Now let’s take a closer look at import and export. Whether it will be a soft or a hard Brexit, import and export opportunities remain the same. The following will always be in demand:
- Anything that is cheaper than we can do it ourselves
- Anything that is MUST have
- Anything that gathers value
The trouble with the first item is that it works well until it puts locals out of jobs. Then the other two start to fall apart and when that happens on a “self-basis”, the self starts to behave unpredictably. The answer has to be balance and restraint. I am a ‘balance’ man myself because it implies some sort of calculated procedure of fairness that indicates the need to understand the underlying physics and so introduces rules of logical consequence. However, the ‘restraint’ rule implies a desire. And if separated from your desire, you become easier to control and manipulate. I don’t like that. We are being sold Brexit on that very premise and have been since this whole debate kicked off.
So, where are the real opportunities in all this and how can we reveal them? Here in the Hub of the industry, we, the engineers, get to see the world from an enviable angle. So you, dear reader, may find what we see of interest in ways others simply will never get.
Are You Getting Fed Up?
A survey of colleagues, both business and engineering professions, is beginning to show that really, we are all pretty fed up. The Leavers are fed up because they seem to be facing a train smash or an eternal custodial sentence, which was not what they had in mind at the time. The Remainers didn’t see the need for a train smash in the first place, and don’t like an outcome worse than before the vote. Everyone thinks politicians have completely lost the plot and whilst all this is going on, Prince Philip keeps escaping and causing chaos on the roads.
Meanwhile, back in industry Rolls Royce is upping sticks and moving to Germany with its big jet engines. B.A. is panicking about its Chester production amongst other places and the car industry is unimpressed too. So this all begs the issue of core metal productions and basic economics since this is what most of these industries use.
Hard Brexit to Affect Metal Industries
How are the metal industries shaping up? With steel, there are a couple of principal processes. One involves blowing air on fire to superheat ore and the other applies a huge electrical charge. The first is expensive and the second is destructive. Both leave grubby carbon marks. Can they be cleaned up? Yes but that costs money, so this involves item one from the list above. Steel is cheap and we already have too much of it but people keep building more steel products and they don’t grow on trees. It takes a similar length of time to build a steel production site as it does to grow a tree. Since the end of the 90s, China has been developing its steel industry and is now the largest producer in the WTO region. It has also been smacked over the wrists for abusing item one, producing cheaper products than the rest us possibly can.
Motor Industry is Still Pan-European
The motor industry is gearing up for complications. Train smash or not, it is still pan-European and crosses all borders with people, money and equipment. Between our steel and motor manufactures, it accounts for a sizeable chunk of our infrastructure, production and workforce. However, let’s see what happens if we add in farm machinery, medical, organic chemicals, jewellery and precious metal and, of course, plastics and electrical goods. That then nobles everything else. Now there is no point in having item one as items two and three are already in the bin. Where is the balance in all of this? Hidden in that are the real business opportunities.
Both the EU and the WTO are actually not as far apart as you might imagine. This is because there are only so many ways you can skin this particular cat. We still have and will continue to have combined projects and challenges and it is in the sharing of resource that balance will continue. That means if industries up route they will take whole sections of infrastructure with them, so rule two is back on the table because to exist in business you :
- Must have a workforce
- Must have a place to work
- Must have market arrangements
These things are the precursor of value, and value provides and generates:
- Revenue streams
- Social care
You must have rules. Otherwise, when one country’s steel production goes into meltdown with no customers, product still flows and by the time wrists have been slapped, jobs have been lost and likely damaged. A nation’s government is a tough challenge even for the biggest of companies so instead of suing them, they persuade them. Let’s leave it at that for now.
Is Hard Brexit so Bad?
It looks like a train smash is on the cards, but a managed exit of some sort is more likely. Would a train smash be so bad? Well, I think not. The government has had electronic tagging for years so if Uber can do it without any taxis, I am sure the government can collect money without any paper and know exactly what is being shipped round their countries from others. Read up on the challenges and opportunities Brexit presents itself with.
Can Tourism be the Answer?
There is a lot of emphasis placed on tourism, one of the remedial suggestions for the mothballing of Teesside steel. As if anyone would want to go on vacation next to one of the largest chemical sites in Europe. However, they wrote off the canal system and the railway system without thinking it through properly and look at that now! So, my first tip is going to be tourism. We have fishing, water sports, walking, boats, mine workings and riverside venues. Add to that university craft industries, the great outdoors, sites to see and you could be in with some workable solutions at an affordable rate for those who might otherwise drive on by.
However, that doesn’t keep everyone employed. Perhaps more micro-industries should be encouraged around the ones already out there. These surely could include hi-tech and software businesses which lead the way in speeding up international trade. Let me give you an example. CEMAT, an intra-logistics and supply management event held at the Hanover Messe in Germany, started about the same time as IMHX exhibition in Birmingham. The IMHX has really grown, however, the Hanover Messe has smashed that concept and gone global with exhibition facilities in all the main industrial continents and nations, with millions of followers and all that before clicking was invented.
Where Do the Investments Go?
A Euro fund of 4bn was launched several years ago in Europe and all nations including us were given investments to redefine how we do industry, especially materials handling, storage and distribution. Germany gave their money to the top university professors, the brains behind their successful industry and had over 2500 jobs on offer generated from their followers in practically one afternoon. This was in the days of the Lib-Dem conservative coalition around the time Brexit was tabled. I understand that we gave our 4bn to Vince Cables department. I have literally no idea what happened to it, I have never heard a thing since. Germany, on the other hand, is still buzzing with the initiative.
Boris Johnson came up with the cheese economy, saying the French love our cheese so everything would be just fine. Perhaps he may have had a serious point there. The two national cheese workforces in France and the UK have not declined. That’s because we largely make different cheeses. Food is not going to be a poor business choice. It would also be a balanced decision as it compliments our two workforces and infrastructures. The French are not the only people who like our cheese. Global warming could be a blessing for our agricultural industries, with new market garden business opportunities in fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, all homegrown. Then there is all the machinery that goes with that and jobs in engineering, programming and steel arise.
With a little imagination and some hard work, Teesside could be growing beer products, distilling and providing food and tourism on a scale that easily creates 20,000 thoroughly respectable, value-added, creative and skilled jobs with 10,000 more in Wales.
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Ireland dreamt up the Wild Atlantic Way. That is going great now, rejuvenating one of the poorest, desolate, baron and remote parts of the country. Spurn Head to Hartlepool doesn’t sound so good, but we have a colourful history in those parts, so reinventing it can’t be that hard.
Hard Brexit or not, Life Goes on
Irrespective of the final Brexit outcome, life will go on. We have invested billions in our education centres. Today you can go to college and stand in the bridge of a ship, fly an aircraft or take a degree in golf.
Steel is a must have and the industry is on the move with new ideas, pollution controls and an abundance of ideas and challenges to change the world.
This is the final reality of engineering and material handling, and it’s those same three things the answers to which are:
- Anything that is cheaper than we can do it ourselves – Good behaviour is free and you don’t have to do anything at all.
- Anything that is MUST have – A clean planet
- Anything that gathers value – A safe planet
Brexit could be the best chance we ever have to make this work. No matter the outcome of soft or hard Brexit, it is what it is. When it finally opens the new gates, the business opportunities are out there and life will go on.
Young People are the Biggest Opportunity We Have as a Nation
The Prince’s Trust Organisation has a queue of young people wanting to start textile businesses, social care projects, I.T and catering, hair care, pet care, crafts and jewellery businesses. The list is endless. These are not low pay, no hope enterprises that exploit and deskill our national workforce. Entrepreneurs and business owners are very much part of our future success as a nation and a vastly important part of our economy. As fas as I know we still have those people amongst us, irrespective of Brexit. Success is measured not by what you have, but by what you do with what you’ve got. When you are born, you don’t arrive with a bank account. A true entrepreneur doesn’t need money, they learn how to create it.
Written by the Material Handling Hub correspondent, Paul Casebourne.
Featured Image © Ali Yahya