Thursday, December 14, 2006

The simple solution never is

As the website Eye on Manchester has done a wonderful plug for the end of year edition of North West Business Insider magazine, it seemed odd that the Marple Leaf should avoid the subject.
Here is my lead article on the subject of the big issues of 2006, headlined, The simple solution never is.

There is a simple and easy solution to the current hysteria about how to reduce carbon emissions in this country. Shut down heavy industry altogether and let the future of the planet sit heavily on the conscience of the Chinese, the Russians and the Indians.

All this obsession with sneering at car drivers, dreaming up new taxes and wittering on about windmills screams of gesture politics. It appears to be the product of an urgent desire to be seen to be doing something, rather than stepping back and understanding how much the global economy is changing and securing a future for our children.

Imagine if you will a North West region that follows the logical conclusion of Gordon Brown’s tax-crazy Stern report on climate change and some of the “green sky” thinking by David Cameron’s New Conservatives. As you do so, you run through a list of the region’s greatest industrial assets and one by one you wipe them out. Aviation: tax it out of existence. Motor car production: regulate it to the point of decimation. Nuclear industry: write it off as a dangerous relic. Chemicals: more regulation and tax.

I come to this subject because I am trying to summarise what the biggest story of this year has been for business in the North West, and what the challenge of 2007 may be. To cut to the chase, the biggest story of the North West in the last year has been the future tenure of its defence industry in Lancashire and in Cumbria. It may carry with it an uncomfortable truth that many of you don’t like to talk about at parties, but we live in a world that has walls and those walls have to be defended by men with £1bn air defence systems.

The biggest challenge of the next year will be to shift the political debate away from the current slide towards madness and accentuate the complexity of the climate change issue, rather than simplify it to feel better today. At one of our recent forums Harry Knowles, the chief executive of Furness Enterprise, a man who knows a thing or two about economic development, drew our attention to the dependence for the UK's energy supply on the gas suppliers of the Middle East and the former Soviet Union. “And that should frighten the life out of you,” he said.

Reducing energy use is good business sense. There are businesses developing solid state lighting, which uses less energy. There are businesses within the boundaries of Manchester, the nuclear free city, researching the possibilities of a bright nuclear future. There have been major advances in hydrogen fuel cell technologies and fusion technology.

This is the future, embrace it. A very merry Christmas and a prosperous new year to you all.

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