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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Buying British - post 2020

John Woodman

A noticeable feature in post Brexit Britain is the proliferation of the nation's flag on product packaging. While we continue to soldier on through what may well be an extended battle to overcome, if not erase, the deprivations of the Covid 19 virus nationwide - the impact and consequence of the UK's removal from oversight of EU regulations and its top heavy bureacracy is becoming clearer.

We have no friends in Europe, or at least in that part of the continent which is aligned with the EU and its Brussels headquartered Commission. The few exceptions bring us closer together with Switzerland and Norway as well as anti EU sentiment now growing in countries seeking to free themselves from the diktats of a cumbersome political and economic bloc. Whereas it was solely the headlines coming out of Athens illustrating the depth of public frustration with a contrived European monolith ruled for the most part from Berlin and Paris; Britain's success in freeing itself from EU Membership has emboldened other countries such as The Netherlands and Sweden along with Italy and Spain more recently - to question their own strategic future.

The UK's independence outside of the EU has at least led to innovative policies dealing with the pandemic - and fast paced actions to acquire volumes of vaccines allowing immunisation of broad sections of its population. This contrasts with top heavy decision making process within bloated EU bureacracies inherently unable to handle matters requiring urgency. If anything the pandemic has heightened the disparities between a UK freed from EU Membership and thirty odd once sovereign states herded into a single administrative bloc.

Equally relevant, in this case to Blackpool's Unitary Authority, is ability to source equipment and vehicles without need to conform to a web of concocted conditionality applied from and by Brussels based suits. No longer must Blackpool Council abide by restrictive procurement practises which have seen its latest generation of light rail vehicles being designed and built in Germany and Austria. A short distance away in the northwest the constant expansion of Manchester's Metrolink network has become the breadwinner for factories and their workforce in the EU - with continuing deliveries of new trams underwritten by British taxpayers and public bodies. This one-sided and now lopsided arrangement should rightly cease to provide skilled assembly work locally - as it did in a previous century when Preston was the largest source for new tramcars (and much more). Most of Blackpool's streamline tramcars were built in Preston - lasting through the years until they were upstaged by imports from Germany as part of the contrived light rail 'upgrade' within EU procurement rules.

First day of service in 2015 for Blackpool Transport's German built 'Citaro' buses placed on the route 5 to Victoria Hospital (and its smart bus terminus). The author records the event

Fortunately the town's buses are built in Britain - a small exception being delivery of Mercedes 'Citaro' single deckers almost a decade back. Plans to renew the bus fleet in favour of hydrogen fuel and electric vehicles wholly free of carbon footprint is at the forefront of Blackpool Transport's planning - with expectation that the new vehicles will be entirely sourced within the UK. Under the new Biden Administration the US Government has most recently strengthened rules governing the sourcing of rail vehicles both light and heavy. US made and assembled trams and rail equipment have to incorporate a majority percentage of local content value in order to qualify for Federal funding - thus Manchester's Metrolink contracts would definitely be ruled ineligible as would the delivery of new trams in the West Midlands, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Croydon and Blackpool; not forgetting the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), Glasgow Underground upgrade, and re-equipment of the Newcastle Metro network now pending.

Below : A test run of Trampower's prototype unit seen here at Starr Gate loop (before the tramway upgrade and new depot built in this location). This is the first all British example of a modern articulated low floor tram - sadly not followed up at the time but with improved models planned for the new PrestonTram project. Photo : John Woodman

Closer to home, the City of Preston is edging close to implementing a new tramway through the inspiring efforts and hard work of a northwest consortium -, PrestonTram. This company has made it a rule to design and develop its rolling stock in the region with testing of earlier prototype 'Trampower' units on Blackpool's system in a collaborative arrangement with the Operator. One hopes that this emerging scheme in Preston will be fully funded and sanctioned - leading to a strategic endeavour benefitting the Fylde. It should be remembered that Blackpool Council were instrumental in ordering (and funding) the very last British tram design to be built locally in Blackburn at East Lancashire Coachbuilders. Centenary class 641 - 648 being the final products in a long lasting story of British tram development which began in Birkenhead in the 1860s.

Below : Blackburn built Centenary car 641 - in 1984 - eight examples bringing to an end UK tramcar construction - for the time being. Photo : John Woodman

The inter-regnum imposed by UK's subservience to Brussels is now at an end in 2021 - allowing our own factories and new generations to take on a domestic market set to grow in the decades ahead.

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