THE US president has been expressing his concern at our approach to economic recovery of late for which we might be expected to be appreciative of such advice he has to offer.
However, his concern is that we should increase spending, create growth and buy more American goods. A solution for the United States economy rather than ours, although we do have a habit of dancing to Uncle Sam’s tunes.
Discounting Obama’s somewhat parochial view, the underlying message may well have some merit.
It is no more than a reversion to Keynsian policies of increasing state spending to build up employment, create wealth and repay public debt from the rising tax income of a stronger economy. It worked in the US in the 1930s and to a some extent in the United Kingdom in the same decade, although the North saw little of such investment with the exception of the still- flourishing Team Valley Trading Estate.
There is little doubt that much of the infrastructure of this country would benefit from investment. The road system remains early 20th century, with the exception of the motorways, sewage and drainage is based on Victorian schemes, railways have been savaged in spite of ever increasing passenger numbers and, most alarmingly, our energy generation is in a perilous state with all sorts of forecasts as to how long it will be before we cannot light our houses, offices and factories.
It may be, therefore, that we should listen to President Obama, even if we adjust what he says towards our own needs. But there remains one critical obstacle. Much of the ownership, or the control, of those vital areas of what were public utilities lies outside the UK.
Investment will create short-term employment, a desirable achievement, but ultimately the beneficiaries will be foreign shareholders reaping the dividend of the British taxpayers’ hard-earned contributions. Alone, amongst major economies, we allow so much of our vital infrastructure to move into overseas ownership. It does not happen in the USA, France or Germany.
The rush to an open market of the post-1980 period has resulted in a high price to our economy.
No doubt we will spend at some stage as necessity demands. The Chinese are favourites to build a new nuclear power station, the Germans will provide our rail rolling stock, the French will control our water resources and the Americans will be looking for every opportunity. It may be some time before the chancellor unlooses his purse strings, but part of that exercise has to bring ownership and control of national resources back where they belong.
:: Bill Midgley is a North East business executive