Seeing Red is my regular column in The Isle of Thanet News. This opinion piece was first published on December 30 2017.
What is our local MP up to? Silent on many local topics, such as the nightmare housing crisis (private sector eviction notice anyone?); silent on Universal Credit, all too often a precursor for poverty and anxiety; silent on some terrible local educational outcomes, far too many local A level students are often put off university by the high fees, too few students getting sufficiently good GCSE grades, for instance. We have a turgid local labour market and an uncertain future for most.
In 2018 UK wages are predicted to hit an all time low according to the OECD, sinking to the bottom of the 32 wealthy nations league table, below Italy and Spain. British workers are expected to see their earnings decrease by 0.7% next year. Certainly hard times ahead.
A new yacht
Instead, Craig Mackinlay’s focus, perplexingly, is on the apparent need for a royal yacht. A claim that, “The view of many MPs and people around the country is that the Government should commission a new Royal Yacht Britannia designed and built domestically to (be) showcasing post-Brexit Britain and bringing trade to our shores.” To be used by Royals and Government ministers alike.
The truth is, across Europe, people shake their heads at us. Why would we leave Europe? Why? Most of our trade is done within the EU. In fact globally most trade is conducted between countries who are near neighbours. We may seek to trade with the USA for instance, but for many SMEs (small medium enterprise) export costs and competition from China and elsewhere make this challenging.
It’s also often difficult for SMEs to ‘scale’ up to be able to supply the volumes that an American market might demand. The opposite isn’t true, the UK is an idea ‘target’ market for many American products. Aiming to continue to expand into ‘near’ EU markets is much more achievable. Will a floating ‘showcase’ enhance our reputation and boost sales? Will it balance out the decreasing value of sterling and rising costs of raw materials, food and fuel? I doubt it somehow. It is clear wages won’t improve.
It is true that the royal family make the UK an income of around £1.6 billion (the family themselves are worth an estimated £60 billion). How would a royal yacht boost this? It’s hard to see. In any case, exactly how would the people of Thanet benefit? In truth, probably not at all.
The ‘old’ Royal Yacht Britannia is a tourist attraction in Leith, (fabulous actually), I can’t quite imagine the good folk of Scotland handing it back. Especially as it’s Scotland’s most popular visitor attraction and employs 150 as a self funding charity. It was decommissioned after 1 million miles when the then Labour Government, felt a cost of £11 million annually to keep it afloat was too steep.
So, what is this all about? I think most sensible people (on both sides of the in / out vote) accept that the future looks uncertain. Brexit is certainly far from simple, it will be costly and does present unintended consequences. That indicates we need ‘focus’, the last thing we need is a smoke screen.
Is the cry for a new royal yacht anything other than a distraction? Could we please concentrate on Thanet?
This article was first published on 30th December 2017 in The Isle of Thanet News.