A linchpin of Tory thinking led to the collapse of Britishvolt, maker of electric car batteries and hopeful savior of the UK car industry. With a £3 billion factory set to be built in Blyth, lighting up the Northumberland coast, the UK owned and operated business is, in the words of Boris Johnson, “creating thousands of jobs in our industrial heartland” and boosting electric vehicle production as “part of our green industrial revolution”. “.
Neither this government, nor any of its predecessors since 2010, has the careful planning and collaboration with industry that drives investment in Japan, South Korea, China, Germany and the United States. Ministers prefer to keep their hands by their sides and their wallets tightly closed, in case they are accused of going back to the corporate 1970s.
Commitment to the free market only allows the ministers to pave the way for major private sector investment by offering an empty field, a tax break and some cobs of corn in the early stages of development. As in the case of Britishvolt, private backers need to step up before the government can commit large sums of cash. And when unspoken concern about the government’s lack of joint policymaking prevents the private sector from making a major financial pledge, the plan can be said to have been a failure without any blame on Number 10.
In this latter case, when we say ministers, Kwasi Quarting may be charged more precisely. First as business secretary and then as chancellor, he has always held back from offering the kind of support that might push the battery maker to become the backbone of the car industry.
Those in industry who had dealings with Kwarteng say that while he listened to their thoughts and expressed sympathy for their plight, he would cling religiously to his belief that ministers intervene at their peril.
CBI Director General Tony Dunker began his term in late 2020 with almost boundless enthusiasm for the Johnson settlement agenda and documents released by Whitehall with commercial investment high on the agenda. Last week, his unspoken concern spilled over on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he was reported to have said business investment was deserting the UK for lack of a coherent strategy.
The usually half-full business boss said Japanese, American and continental European companies are turning their backs on the UK and investing in places where they have been met with more than warm words. On Monday, he will ask in a speech to members of the CBI: “Is the UK stuck in a growth rut?” And the answer is “yes”.
Britishvolt has always been a problem for the government. The company was starting from scratch in a field already crowded with large, innovative industrial firms, including Panasonic, LG, and CATL, VW’s Chinese supplier and possibly The largest manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries.
Britishvolt’s decision to develop its own battery was a high-risk plan given the levels of investment required. No major car company has committed to buying its merchandise. Swedish competitor Northvault It took a similar approach but with €350m of EU money and major investors including BMW and VW.
The writing was on the wall for Britishvolt last summer when its CEO, W guardian mentioned Leaked documents show that the company was working on life support.
Rather than stand back to watch the slow collapse, successive business ministers may have become more involved and either brought British engineering power to the project, teamed up with India-owned Jaguar Land Rover or switched to a more viable provider. Instead, the British Vault is in bankruptcy and the UK is years behind its main competitors. Only Nissan, which backed the Chinese-owned Envision battery plant in the northeast, has a secure domestic supply line.
Quarting is among the many Tory ministers who read the history of the 1980s as the date that put the UK on the map thanks to Thatcherite’s ideological aversion to government intervention. However, outside the EU’s single market, the UK’s most successful manufacturing sectors – aerospace, automotive and life sciences – are struggling and, with no plan to help them overcome the obvious barriers in their path, will soon be on the way back.
Brexiteers describe the European Union as the tortoise to the brilliant British hare, which, unencumbered by bureaucracy, will defy storytelling and finally go straight ahead.
But Britishvolt will never be another Josiah Wedgwood, thanks to the head of the V&A, Tristram Hunt, with the transformation of 18th-century Britain in his Modern book Radical Potter. Manufacturing in the 21st century is about collaboration. If we need a reminder, vacuum cleaner maker James Dyson thought he was smart enough to build an electric car and failed.
When selling 100% of the cars in the UK It must be Electric or hybrid by 2030, it would be the new low for ministers and civil servants in the business department to brag about the cash they saved by not investing in Britishvolt, especially when the company’s only hope of success was for the government to take a strategic stake.
the £100m on offer Of the meager £500m motor conversion fund it was not enough to outfit the Blyth plant. It takes a lot of effort and money to keep up with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Free market thinking is from the point of view of the politicians of yesterday, not today.