EurActiv - Letters to the Editor


Is the United Kingdom symptomatic of the wider issues and problems that the EU faces in the long-term?

For Britain in economic terms is bleeding to death and no-one seems to care. Over the last three decades the UK has lost 23 global businesses with the loss of millions of jobs to overseas predators in the main. Over the same period of time the UK has created only three global companies, such as Vodafone, for example.

The USA in comparison has lost only four global companies to overseas ownership but has created 17 global corporations over the same period. China has created 29 global firms over the last 10 years alone, 50% of which are in manufacturing. Spain and other EU nations have stopped crucial sales of the nation’s assets on grounds of national interest and Britain has not.

The UK’s three main political parties signed up to concentrating on an ill-thought out strategy to forget about manufacturing and concentrate ultimately on service industries, thus placing all their long-term economic eggs in one basket.

Indeed, in two decades’ time, most financial institutions will have moved from London to China, thus creating a further economic disaster for the United Kingdom. Through this strategy and taking inflation into account, Britain’s wealth has substantially decreased and it will be 2032 at the earliest by the time it has the wealth again that it had in 2005, if it actually can (cited from a leading economist).

This is in contrast to China et al, who march on relentlessly to economic domination. Some twenty years ago my institution warned of the dire threat from the growing manufacturing might of the East. No-one took any notice and predominantly not governments.

The reason? China, for example, is run by first-class engineers and scientists who knew a quarter of a century ago when they really started their strides towards economic dynamism that the wars of the 21st Century would not be military, but economic. In contrast, the UK is politically run predominantly by lawyers who have no comprehension or understanding of the power of innovation and what wealth it creates.

Indeed, when over forty ‘independent’ world-class scientists, engineers and technologists (including eight Nobel Laureates in the sciences) advised Blair and his government in 1997, when Labour came to power, they took no notice of these globally-applied thinkers.

Unfortunately the current coalition government in the UK is the same in this respect. ‘Independent’ thinking, totally removed from vested interests, is not entertained. This is the great weakness of government and all political parties with regard to economic thinking. Consequently Britain’s trade and industry strategies have failed us miserably and the UK’s decline is more-or-less assured by keeping to this status quo of yesterday’s thinking.

Unfortunately in a further two decades the United Kingdom, using this destructive mentality of ‘closed door’ accepted wisdom, will in real terms be poorer than most of the developing nations currently. I do not get any pleasure whatsoever in stating the consequences here.

Therefore this terrible state of Britain’s decline squarely lies at the feet of successive governments and in the UK, Whitehall’s uncompromising judgement that in the long term has literally been devastating for the nation.

It is therefore time to change and introduce unbiased ‘independent’ thinking, or we, our children and future generations will pay a terrible price for our innovative neglect.

Dr David Hill

World Innovation Foundation

Author :


  1. Good letter, had something similar published in the FT back in the 1980s, the writing was on the wall then and nothing has changed. There was a recent rap made on the changes to the NHS. The minister concerned was called a “tosser” which in most respects summarises the capabilities of most ministers in most UK governments. Having said that as V said in the film of the same name, if you want to see who is ultimately responsible you need only look into a mirror – voters get the government they deserve

  2. Thank you Mike for your comments !

    The overriding and sorrier side of the coin is the future that awaits the EU’s young and their offspring. In this respect, using our development mechanisms that reside in yesterday’s world and the EU’s innovation neglect will despatch them to relative poverty against most of the emerging economic giants in the east and south America. Politicians do not understand that there is only one global cake and when someone takes a piece out of that cake, it reduces the wealth in the West. They live in a land where they believe that things will stay as they are (it will for them but not for their people) – the complacency that destroys all empires as history has clearly shown.
    Our elitist system where the few develop hypothetical concepts and the few make the decisions that decide our future fortunes or declines, will be the death of us. In this respect emerging nations see that for one to create a vibrant and dynamic society, the whole of the people and their creative thinking has to be harnessed. The Achilles heel of the West is that they believe that the vast majority of the people should not be integral to any national economic strategy.

    Morocco are introducing a new way forward for them by putting innovation and the development of small science cities to drive their future economy. Who would have thought that say even ten years ago, but where they are not constrained by the fixed mindsets of our EU politicians and their status quo/vested interests advisers.

    Consequently with a relatively ‘free’ mind they are building 21st century foundations for their people. Why is this not happening in the EU and the West? I will tell you why, they think that they know best. Unfortunately with this ill-placed sense of superiority they miss the boat that is now setting out into the 21st century. I have asked several eminent government advisers to name me five globally sized corporations or indeed new industrial bases that have come out of the hundreds of billions of research funding in the West (including the EU) that our universities have had over the last half a century. None of them can tell me even one new industrial base that has directly come out of our universities. The reason is that predominantly global industries have emerged outside the conservative confines of our western universities and usually been developed by a single person, predominantly with an inventive mind. Therefore we are barking up the wrong tree in the West by placing most of our eggs in the university basket. For universities should be our secondary mechanism for developing world changing ideas (that definitely do reside elsewhere) and which in reality we should start to recognise for our own long-term good. What we should be doing in the West and what is the emerging picture in the Middle-east and SE Asia (central Asia is also following here also), is to develop the innovative infrastructure for normal intelligent people who are increasingly seen as the seeds of future economic dynamism, not just the minority elitist scientific classes (increasingly seen as narrow mindedness and which it clearly is in this current century). In China for example, better to use the brain-power of 1.4 billion people than a very small number – thus bringing into the economic equation the laws of probability and where the more involved in a nation’s thought power has more chance of economic dominance.

    The bureaucracy and systems set in concrete in the West (and therefore the EU) are the mechanisms that will enslave the EU in the years ahead. For these mechanisms evolved when we were the dominant economic world power but where now they are obsolete. That is where the East and south America has the upper hand, as they are having to build their economies from scratch and are not constrained like we are. What worked before does not work now as we lose our economic dominance by the decade. Therefore it is going to be a very hard struggle for the EU to provide for our future generations with the present systems and institutions that are in place and are harnessed together by glue that will not allow them to develop these needed mechanisms of the 21st century. Politicians, senior civil servants and industry that tries to keep the status quo for their own good (the ‘bottom-line’) and where they really do not like change at the top, are the main gluing elements that will inevitably destroy the EU’s financial status. We have therefore to start thinking ‘out of the box’ and dismantle the current systems before they destroy the very thing that our politicians are trying so desperately to preserve – the EU itself. Unfortunately I doubt that they will due to complacency and a lack of leading-edge knowledge needed for change.

    Dr David Hill
    World Innovation Foundation

Comments are closed.