This afternoon was a fine example of the bizarre way this country is currently being governed.
At around 3.00pm, the Business Minister Lord Mandleson stood up the House of Lords to give details of the Government’s planned help for the ailing car industry.
Shortly after Lord M sat down, a Labour minister stood up in the House of Commons and re-read Mandelson’s statement.
Then Ken Clarke, the new shadow Business Secretary, stood up and gave the government’s plans a six-minute rubbishing.
I’m not sure this is any sensible way to run a country in the middle of a serious recession.
Aside from the absurdity of someone as important as the Business Secretary not being in the House of Commons, where his ideas can be argued out between the government and opposition, the noble Lord’s plans are already being condemned by senior figures in the UK car industry.
What the British industry desperately wanted was Government loan guarantees for their finance companies. This is no British Leyland-style bailout.
As one senior UK industry source told Autocar today, ‘we want to be able to offer credit to those car buyers who can afford the repayments. If we don’t sell cars and keep the factories rolling, the whole pack of cards is going to come down.’
Instead, Lord M offered guarantees for £1bn of lending to carmakers and suppliers, rather than punters. Another £1.3bn could come from the European Investment Bank, but would undoubtedly take months of form filling.
He then rambled on at some length about new money to support re-training and how the government wanted to see a ‘step-change’ in the development and adoption of ‘green technology’ and was sure the ‘downturn’ wouldn’t delay the development of ‘low carbon vehicles’.
With much of the UK’s automotive R&D in the hands of Jaguar Land Rover, I wonder if Lord M has realised that JLR won’t be conducting much in the way of ‘green’ R&D when its business has been decimated?
At the end of his statement, however, Lord M did reveal that the recently-appointed Trade and Investment Minister, Mervyn Davies, will set up a task force to look into getting money to the carmaker’s finance arms.
It’s hardly worth thinking just how long that process will take, or even whether it will even come up with the right conclusion.
The lack of urgency from the Government over the plight of the UK car industry is bordering on the reckless. A simple state underwriting of car loans is what’s needed. Is that so hard to do?
While Mandelson ponders a glorious green future from the red benches of the Lords the here-and-now demands swift action to prevent the UK car manufacturing taking a body blow from which it will not recover.