Protest March

There was a wide range of organisations represented at the march in support of the UK rail industry in Derby on Saturday.  Many had prepared by making placards, banners or flags which they handed out to anyone who’d take them, thus swelling the apparent numbers of their supporters.

For a long time I’ve disliked the way such cloned placards can end up dominating photos and other records of an event.  I suppose it’s a bit like the difference between signing a petition (easy) and writing a letter of objection (harder).

I had sent around some simple artwork and instructions for people to make Lib Dem style ‘posters on sticks’ – and I was delighted with how many variations on this theme were to be seen across the march.

It took nearly half an hour for the march to leave Bass’s Rec. – a wonderful endorsement of support for the rail industry in Derby, and the UK.  Whether it will succeed in
changing anything, I can’t yet say, but if one does nothing, one stands no chance of influencing the outcome.

More and more the issue, for me, seems to be one of financial engineering.  If the contract
had been for the purchase and maintenance of trains, I feel sure as I can without having seen the tender documents that Bombardier would have won.  But the tender was for a 25 year PFI (private finance initiative) contract.  The supplier had to provide the finance up front, making the money and paying back the loan over decades.

I don’t like this buying on the never-never on principle: If we need something, shouldn’t we plan to afford it by cutting our cloth accordingly?  In any case it should be cheaper for  he country to borrow than any company.

After the march there were speeches on Cathedral Green.  What would I have said, if I’d been asked to speak?  Maybe:

“My father came to Derby to work at the Railway Technical Centre, and it was here that he met my mother.  He was an engineer, and I also went into engineering; I worked for British Celanese, which became Courtaulds Acetate in Spondon.

“Derby was built on manufacturing, from silk, here at the Silk Mill and plus other textiles at many other mills around the west end, and later the artificial silk made by Celanese – through to heavier transport engineering of locomotives, cars and aero engines.

“The UK’s prosperity was also based on manufacturing – and the undermining of manufacturing through the 1970s and beyond has been to the UK’s detriment.  Manufacturing isn’t just menial jobs, it’s creativity and wealth creation.  We have still not learnt that exporting the manufacturing means a few years later that we are exporting the design jobs too.

“Government contracts, like this Thameslink one, need to include a commitment to skilled design and manufacturing jobs being based here in the UK.  The engineers who learn their trade or profession in one industry may move on and take those skills and abilities
to other places.  Last year I had hoped to take my understanding of engineering into parliament – to help speak up for manufacturing and engineering in Westminster.

“At least the Government has at last been talking about the importance of manufacturing as part of a balanced economy.  But it needs to put its action where its mouth is and find a way to ensure that these jobs and expertise are not lost from our city.”

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