15 JUNE 1996, Page 27


Here's a test case for how to help industry try getting out of change's way


The managing director is the one who knows where the factory is and even goes there sometimes. This maxim (from How to Run a Bassoon Factory) is borne out by a friend of mine who is managing director of a Midland engineering company and whisked me round his factory this week. I must not identify it, but it sells its goods and services across the world, competes with Far Eastern producers, went through a bad time but is now responding to change, and has Dr Theodore Dalrymple for a neighbour. This is the kind of business that, so everybody seems to believe, Britain used to have and now needs, and I found myself thinking of it as a test case for public policy. What is it short of? Not, as far as I can see, investment or finance, although (or possibly because) every individual penny of the cash is watched. Not that familiar cure-all, train- ing — the company will know its needs bet- ter than some well-intentioned agency. Not more compliance and correctness, more meetings and more make-work for the empire-builders in human resources — that is, more alternatives to work. Not more reg- ulations, from the health and safety enthu- siasts or from Brussels, blithely varying all the specifications to satisfy some tidy mind. In particular, no new regulations to tell people when they can and cannot come to work, and on what terms. My friend has to manage change, in a micro-culture which may have accepted it, surrounded by a macro-culture that resents it and resists it, preferring to say that it wouldn't or shouldn't be allowed and to ask why the government doesn't do something about it. The best thing for the government to do about it might be to get out of its way.