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Digby Jones: I wouldn’t bail out the car giants

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Two nights ago, I bumped into Lord Jones of Birmingham at the Pearl Awards, an elegant ceremony celebrating Britain’s Chinese community. Winners included the chef-entrepreneur-TV personality Ching He-Huang and the redoubtable 48 Group, which has been supporting UK-China relations for half a century.

Now freed from his governmental obligations, the UK’s cheerleader-in-chief was in fine form, hobnobbing with Britain’s trade envoy the Duke of York, entrepreneur Sir David Tang and Harvey Nichols CEO Joseph Wan.

Conversation naturally turned to the plight of the US car giants – Ford, GM and Chrysler – that are currently negotiating a multi-billion bail-out. As a proud West Midlander and free-trader, where does Jones stand on this massive injection of state aid?

Assuming a rather more political tone, Jones sees three issues – the politics, the social and the business. On the first two, he couldn’t see any political party signing up to the fall-out that would inevitably flow from losing hundreds of thousands of jobs. The political and social consequences, he said, are just too great for any politician to countenance.

But, as a free trader, "I wouldn’t sign the cheque", he insisted. The long-term implications of propping up huge, inefficient industries in which around a quarter of costs are in supporting the healthcare schemes of the workers, are just too great.

We suspect he’s right, but don’t imagine his words will go down too well in his native Birmingham.

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