Hot on the heels of demands for a bail out for the motor industry the retail sector has asked for help to keep their three million employees in work. Admittedly their request is focused on a 5 per cent increase in business rates due in April which does seem a bit severe in current circumstances.
We are told that the motor industry has to be bailed out by taxpayers to compensate for its inability to sell its product because so many supplier firms depend on the assemblers. But then any industry has inputs of energy, raw materials, machinery and various services. However, in the case of the motor industry the casualties are more identifiable.
When I studied industrial policy, it always struck me that the focus on industries like motor vehicles and steel rather than food processing which employed just as many people had a strong gendered dimension to it. Motor vehicles was seen as a 'real industry' making things and in the 1970s the workforce was overwhelingly male: its composition has changed since then.
Any help to firms in trouble must take the form of loans to tide them through the recession. There must be no return to the days of using taxpayers' money to bail out failing companies. Unfortunately, the Americans have not set a good example. In their present form Chrysler and General Motors are simply not viable.