The Birmingham Post, with sister newspapers the Birmingham Mail, the Coventry Telegraph, The Liverpool Daily Post and The Liverpool Echo, is campaigning to win government and public support for financial aid both for Jaguar Land Rover and its suppliers and dealers and the broader automotive industry within the UK.
We are joining forces with industry bodies and politicians in calling for the government to support an important industry that is facing unprecedented difficulties not of its own making.
We want Whitehall to compensate for the continuing failure of the banks to restore normal credit flows by providing JLR and its competitors the commercial loans, or loan guarantees, they need to maintain liquidity until normal trading conditions are restored.
It is important to stress here that no one is asking the taxpayer to finance hand-outs or bail-outs for wealthy carmakers, which is the impression that some less than well informed commentators in London are creating.
And it is a view that seems to be gaining credence among the general public.
The car supermarket group Motorpoint, for example, has conducted an online opinion poll and has come up with the result that “almost 75 per cent of Brits don’t want the government to use taxpayers’ money to bail out car manufacturers”.
That might be an accurate summary of the views of the 1,100 people who took part in the survey, but it would be woeful if the government were to base its industrial policy (such as it is) on such an exercise.
To begin with, it would seem that Motorpoint’s respondents are saying that having bailed out – and for once the phrase is accurate – the banks from a mess of their own making with many billions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash the government should say enough is enough and abandon an industry that employs in total 850,000 people and contributes more than £50billion to the UK economy to its fate.
Such an attitude ignores a number of obvious points. First, the long-term cost of allowing a company like Jaguar Land Rover to founder in terms of unemployment and social benefits, loss of tax revenues and ultimately regeneration aid would far, far outweigh the cost, if any, of any short-term commercially-based loans.
Second it would jeopardise the UK’s global competitiveness in the research and development of new technologies and materials.
Third, it would send a signal to foreign manufacturers such as BMW, Toyota, Honda and Nissan that the UK was not serious about maintaining an advanced industrial base and perhaps result in their reviewing their investment levels here.
Fourth, it would ignore the fact that the UK has built a successful, albeit largely foreign owned, car industry out of the wreckage of failures such as British Leyland that exports getting on for 80 per cent of its output.
Fifth it totally ignores the fact that owners such as Tata, an honourable company which is keeping faith with its UK acquisition even though it is exposed on several other industrial fronts, is itself currently finding it virtually impossible to raise new funds from shattered credit markets.
Sixth, it overlooks the fact that the banks are behaving selfishly by hoarding their taxpayer-sourced rescue funds instead of funding industry and consumers.
Seventh, the fact that a host of industrialised countries have given their car industries the support they need could put the UK at a severe competitive disadvantage when the upturn comes if ministers here do not follow suit.
Opponents of an aid package – whether free market fundamentalists or anti-car campaigners – would argue, in good faith, against all of the above points.
But we believe they would be wrong to do so. We accept that we are exposed to the charge of special pleading by campaigning as we are.
But we and our sister newspapers speak for areas that have the most to lose from a collapse, or a major dilution, of the car industry.
With the car industry likely to shrink by as much as a fifth this year, large scale job losses, especially here in the West Midlands and on Merseyside, seem inevitable whether or not the government gives JLR and its competitors the aid they need.
We are talking here about damage limitation.
Gamblers and speculators have brought disaster to the banking and finance sectors.
They should not be allowed to threaten the future of profitable and efficient companies like Jaguar Land Rover, whose executives and employees are key elements of the value added manufacturing chain and who now fear the future.