Lord Sugar: Whitehall needs more red, white and blue

Lord Sugar has attacked officials for using foreign IT brands. As opposed to his own one...

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
The Apprentice host launched into a rant about the Government not buying British, writing on Twitter: ‘No one cares, that’s [the] problem, no one instils buying or supporting UK [companies] in Whitehall’. He then called on our ‘brain surgeon economists’ to ‘explain the virtues of anti-protectionism’, adding that his pleas to the House of Lords on the subject have fallen on ‘deaf ears’. You can kind of see his point (even if it was delivered on Twitter, which doesn't seem like the natural forum to debate economic theory): buying British would probably create more British jobs. And it's also true that other countries aren't as shy about protectionism as we are. But particularly at the moment, we imagine value for money will be the key priority for most Whitehall departments...

Lord Sugar - ennobled by Labour, lest we forget - went on to moan that Government offices were ‘littered’ with foreign IT brands, with officials favouring manufacturers like Siemens and Fujitsu, rather than British computer brands. Sugar highlighted his own company, Viglen, the last remnant of his old computing empire, as one of the companies that was missing out. Not that the peer is acting out of flagrant self-interest, you understand.

Sugar is almost certainly right about one thing - if UK procurement did more to support domestic companies, that would in turn create more UK jobs. ‘It’s simple – if big co’s and UK gov buy UK IT equipment then co’s like Viglen will employ more people,’ he wrote.

Unfortunately though, it's not quite that simple. There are reasons why people don’t buy British; particularly when budgets are tight, as they are at the moment in Whitehall, buyers will be desperate to get the best possible deal, even if it means choosing an overseas supplier. And since this is saving money that can be diverted to other public services, you might argue that this is no bad thing.

That said, other countries clearly don't have the same qualms about this sort of thing as we do. Just look at the French. Its engineering group Alstom is trying to get a London court to block Eurostar from buying trains from Siemens, saying its rights were violated in the bidding process. ‘Why don’t we think this way in the UK?’ Sugar wondered. ‘Why is it a bad idea to protect our market?’ While we have to salute the patriotism of that sentiment, we're sure a few economists out there might take a different view. And besides, he's hardly an impartial witness here...

Speaking of blatant self-interest, the November issue of MT is dedicated to the best of British industry. Buy it. It's a far better read than all that foreign muck.

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