4 March 2013
Various factors may have contributed to the decline of our manufacturing capacity.
But there are significant elements of the infrastructure that existed to support it still in place, and one of these has been providing me with a fair bit of travel recently.
The Great Western main line from London to Bristol was built over a three year period, to open throughout in 1841; the final link including the almost-two miles of Box Tunnel. Now I’m not suggesting that this stretch of railway has survived for over 170 years maintenance free, but the essential infrastructure is that which those Victorian navvies laboured over to construct.
We can still benefit from many things that the Victorians put in place to fuel the UK economy at a time when we were a major world power. A combination of things, including finance, vision, labour, ingenuity and ruthlessness combined to deliver things that have lasted for us to use still. They were not afraid to tear down things that had outlived their usefulness, but above all they invested for the future.
I think that it is that forward looking aspect that I admire most. As with many things that I learned at an early age it was not until later that I really began to understand them. I’ve written before about my background on farms and country estates and there everything that we did was about the future; the next crops, the next batch of livestock being born, strengthening the herds and so on. I can see now how that influence flowed through into my approach to managing business as well as property.
Investment for the future is not just about money; much of the time it is about using your resources well and in planning for good use of both of those can save you funds in the long term. Of course you do sometimes need funding to make investments and that is perhaps behind much of the short term thinking that we have seen in recent years. Certainly not helped my politicians who are more interested in getting re-elected than in the country they represent.
Much of the Victorian infrastructure that I refer to was built to serve our manufacturing needs at a time when we supplied much of the globe with things that we could make and the primary manifestation of that is in the railways which service the major centres and ports. Those days of manufacturing output have passed, but the core of the railway network has survived and works hard for the nation still.
It has been upgraded in places, but if you take my local station as an example, most of its main fabric is still original. The new bit is there to replace the original part that got knocked down post Beeching, but which has had to be reinstated. What did I say about planning? Consider also how much it has cost to widen the M25 in several locations against what it would have cost to have built it to a decent width in the first place.
Most of us don’t get to make the really big decisions, but it’s worth trying to apply forward thinking. We can’t always predict too well, but rarely does over providing prove wrong so don’t just put in what you need; put in some extra capacity and you’ll not regret it.
The GWR directors could never have imagined that we would whisk along their line at 125 mph, nor the numbers of people and tons of goods it now carries, but their vision made that possible and I, for one, thank them for it. John Bowen is an FM consultant http://thatconsultantbloke.wordpress.com/