The UK is too dependent on global markets – Join the YouK Campaign and support UK jobs and businesses, local communities and public services.

Times of crisis often brings new clarity to things, and it is surely beyond doubt that the UK has become too dependent on globalisation. We have some of the best medical research facilities in the world, yet we don’t have a capable medical diagnostics industry. Modern ventilators have their roots in a patent taken out by William White, of Garlick Hill, London, in 1794, yet our hospitals depended on other countries producing them.

This time the crisis is medical in nature, but what of other globalisation risks? As just one example, we import 47% of our food: if we suffered a blockade, crop failures, oil crisis, war – and we’ve had all of them in the past – the impact would be a lot greater than a run on toilet rolls. 

As well as being risky, too much globalisation has two permanently operating economic outcomes; it exports jobs that would otherwise have been carried out here, and it pumps money out of the country, weakening our public finances and undermining the funding of education, schools and hospitals.

Added to that the ecological cost is huge – a massive increase in our product miles: we are long used to container ships, but in June we have seen the arrival of the first Ultra Large Container Vessel in the UK – 1,312ft long by 200ft wide, with densely packed containers stacked 8 high above deck alone.

On average 1 in 2 containers leaving the UK is empty.

Image: HMM Algeciras arrives in the UK. Sky News.

Rebalancing our economy to be less global does not mean being anti-globalisation; worldwide trade has worked a miracle in lifting billions of people out of poverty, and there are goods from remote corners of the world that we all cherish; but it’s an issue of balance.

More localisation, buying what we make and produce, is better for the economic and environmental wellbeing of everyone living here.   

One economic theory is that buying rather than making, when someone else can do it more efficiently, makes sense. This is fair enough, but taken too far, as it has been for the past 30 years, it leads to the almost complete loss of critical national capabilities. Modern economies depend more than anything on innovation, new ways of making and delivering products and services, so when a capability is lost the knock-on effects can be huge. Take machine tooling; some potential products or new businesses that could build on that skill set – such as robotics – don’t emerge, and innovation withers.  A classic positive example of the benefits of retaining capability is Dyson, whose research strengths in designing sophisticated household goods could quickly be applied to ventilators.   

So what role can each of us play? We have lived in an era during which we have not been deeply concerned about where things come from – indeed almost relishing their distance travelled. We cannot afford that anymore: not in terms of jobs, not in terms of security, not in terms of the environmental impact. Things have to change, and the time for change is now. 

Join the YouK campaign 

Our consumer imports are the direct result of millions of individual purchasing decisions – and we are all individually in control of these. The YouK campaign is based on three simple ideas: 

First, recognise that “made in the UK” is rarely a simple proposition – there are many factors in “made”: research and design, the source of input materials, location of manufacture, make or part-assemble. Anything which meets all of these criteria, most of them, or even one, will be making a positive UK contribution relative to goods that are purely imported. For example, Makita is a Japanese company, but their Telford manufacturing plant is the only full-production power tools facility in the UK, so buying their products, even the ones that are not made here, supports UK jobs, UK corporation tax, national insurance payments and a myriad of local Telford services such as their office cleaners and plumbing suppliers. Another important point is that the design element in non-food consumer goods is actually where the most economic benefit is, such as for over-the-counter medicines, designer clothes or innovative appliances. 

Imported product miles versus local product miles.

Second – buy local. And local means from the farm or small business in the town next door first, then anywhere local in the UK. For food, there are obvious advantages such as provenance and freshness, and farm shops offering ‘direct to consumer’ are either close by or with online delivery.

There are also major ecological benefits – the 47% of food we import comes at the cost of multiplying our food product miles by ten! The same for UK landed fish, where the scandal is that we export 70% of the fish we catch and then import 75% of the fish we eat. Is it possible to think of anything more ridiculous as an emblem of “too much global” – a pointless two-way motorway of fish hitching a circular ride on giant containerships?

But many, many other products are also local: skincare, furniture, shoes, tools or cars. It is a complete falsehood that the UK doesn’t make anything anymore. It just doesn’t have a champion.

Finally, make this your mission, you can be the champion. Only you can change this. And how you can change it is simple: make sure you consider the UK options first for anything you want to buy – ginger biscuits, yarn, brie, hybrid bikes, world class sparkling white, rugby scrum machines, headache tablets, toasters and stilettos. 

Your shopping choices can change the UK.

Author: Derek Poots, Founder of YouK

Read more articles related to ‘YouK and the Economy’ in our Economy category.