With both the Mayor of London and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a trade mission to China I have been thinking about our international competitiveness and I find myself more than a little worried.
We are an island nation and a trading nation, and if we want to maintain our current standard of living we need to ensure that we remain relevant, and competitive in the world economy. We do not have a large enough internal market to sit in glorious isolation. We have a number of significant advantages, we are in the right time zone and latitude to remain at the centre of world trade, we speak the language of international business, we have pre-existing commercial structures and relationships. We have a huge amount going for us, which is why I worry about complacency.
I am saddened to see that our young people are close to the bottom of the league tables for literacy and numeracy, a situation which got significantly worse under the stewardship of the last Labour government. We are now the only developed nation where our young people are less literate and numerate than the generation about to retire. Labour’s reaction to this news isn’t to say “what can we do to turn this around” it’s simply to say “exam results got better under us”, complete denial as to to potential seriousness of the situation.
We also seem to have generated a very worrying attitude towards work amongst the very people who should be most motivated and entrepreneurial. In a recent Radio 4 programme on the British hop farming Miles Warde, the presenter, is horrified to find that young British people are just unwilling to do the work (you can listen to the exchange at 19 mins 40 secs).
It strikes me that people in the emerging economies are willing to work far harder to attain the standard of living that we enjoy than we are to keep it, I should make it clear that I’m not just talking about relative living standards, I mean absolute living standards.
I am not, however, a doom-monger. I believe strongly that with focus and hard work we have every opportunity to not just maintain our world position but increase our standing in economic, cultural and social terms. But Labour style complacency isn’t going to do it.