Bombardier

The government’s choice of Siemens to fullfil the Thameslink rail contract, rather than Bombardier based in Derby, has stirred up people from across the city and beyond.

The lack of detailed information has helped prevent the worst of finger-pointing.  The tender was put together under Labour, but bids opened under the coalition.  The details of the tender are confidential, but rumours support concerns about a concentration on the cost per unit, not the cost to the country – which should include aspects like training and local employment.  And there is a suspicion that Siemens’s bid is supported by access to cheaper finance than Bombardier.

Disparate groups – political, environmental, trade union and others – are coming together on Saturday to support a march in Derby.  People here know that engineering is more than assembly, and without a commitment to the design side of the contract Derby will be worse off.

And it’s not only Derby.  Margaret Thatcher’s – and others’ – dismissal of manufacturing in favour of services has resulted in a serious reduction in the recognition of the importance of professional engineers in the UK.  At last, this government – the coalition government, driven in this case by the Lib Dems, and Vince Cable in BIS – has emphasised that manufacturing needs strengthening in the UK.

Well, that’s fine, provided we have the engineers to turn ideas into practical solutions and products.  The higher proportion of engineers in senior positions in Germany and France mean that these countries instinctively recognise the importance of engineering as the real wealth-creator in their wider decision-making. 

They know it is worth their while in the longer term to provide cheaper finance to win tenders like this, so that their citizens have the opportunities to develop the engineering skills to ensure future success.  The UK must learn this too.

If elected last year, I would have been the second ever female Chartered Engineer in parliament – and indeed this parliament has fewer engineers and scientists than the last one.  But as I’m not there, I’ve been doing what I can from the outside such as, net-working with Lib Dems in the Association of Lib Dem Engineers and Scientists, pressing backbench Lib Dem MPs to ask more questions and publicising the march on Saturday.

A good turn out on the march should ensure continued media interest – and at the very least make civil servants and ministers look more closely at which they should be requiring as outputs from future tenders.

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