The Lobby: Off-topic discussion

Hello and welcome to The Lobby! Your place to discuss subjects that just don’t fit in our other conversations. Make yourself at home!

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Do you want to discuss an issue but can’t find the right place to post it? Or maybe you’re looking for somewhere to chat with your community pals? Well, you’ve come to the right place…

As with any community or conversation it can – and does – wander off-topic. This is perfectly natural, but it hasn’t always been possible to do so on some of our posts because of the precisely defined nature of each subject.

So, at the behest of some of our community members, we created this off-topic discussion area – The Lobby.

Any ideas spawned here in The Lobby could generate new posts for debate and discussion on Which? Conversation, so you – our community members – are able to help shape the direction of our community.

What happened to the original Lobby?

Why do we have two Lobbies? Well, like all good franchises, we wanted to experiment with a sequel. But seriously, the original Lobby was so popular (with almost 13,000 comments), it was becoming hard to load the page.

So we’re starting fresh with what we’re affectionately calling “The Lobby 2”.

No comments from first Lobby have been deleted, and you can still link to comments, but you won’t be able to add new comments.


To ensure The Lobby remains a healthy and friendly place for you all to share your thoughts, musings all of our Community Guidelines apply, with the exception of one:

You may go off-topic… that is the purpose of The Lobby.  🙂

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Welcome to the Lobby!

So without further ado… welcome! What are you waiting for!?


Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. But teach a man to fish, and you saved yourself a fish, haven’t you?

The Bible tells us the story of how 5000 were fed with five loaves and two fishes, which shows what can be achieved without crowd funding.

…or maybe that was the first example?

Splendid. I’m going to use that joke.

The beginnings of nouvelle cuisine. I wonder how much each customer was charged?

Just a smidgen.🦈

Nouvelle cuisine – two peas, tastefully arranged.

. . . like one balanced on top of the other with a dribble of pea jus around them? Served with a potato crisp [optional].

Oh yes, it’s the presentation that counts. That crisp will cost more than 2p.

I think The Big Fish knew the answer to that one.

2p or not 2p – that is the question.

Yesterday I took the car in to be serviced and MOT’d. Getting there and back was the usual rush hour chaos on the motorway. It would seem that we are all back on the road again going places. So much for Lockdown.
Talking about waste. I reported a small LED light on one of the car window switches having failed. They couldn’t replace this and I was billed £80 for a complete new switch unit. Without investigating further, it would seem that this piece of equipment had been made without the ability to repair it. I wonder if my old unit has been recycled?
The American spelling here has only become obvious in the last couple of months. I shall check my computer to find out why. (Possibly as a result of a Windows update?) Thanks for the advice Derek.

Rush hour chaos already? A nature park in Thailand reported their animals were starting to act normally again without the constant presence of humans. They have vowed to shut the park for 2 months every year, so good news for the wild-life.

What browser are you using Vynor? You might need to add a dictionary to your browser or you might already have one with the wrong language setting. Either post a few more details here or google your browser with something like ‘adding a browser to Chrome /Firefox/Explorer/Opera should give you some help.

Firefox requires you to add a dictionary in Options / Add-ons. If you need to search for a dictionary, sorting results into ‘most popular’ should give you a safe one. I use British English Dictionary (Marco Pinto).

When my car was four years old I decided to take it to the main dealer in the hope that they would fix the headlamp leveller which worked fine but frequently operated the motor back and forth for a short period. The problem was investigated and I was told that it would cost around £140 to fix. I said I would replace the part myself but they must have inadvertently sorted the problem because it has been fine since then.

I hope that dealers do recycle parts they remove from cars but we have no way of knowing.

As long as they don’t recycle faulty parts into other cars . . . . ☹️

🤔 Do you know something we don’t?

Insurance companies do just that alfa. Their specially appointed engineers run a ‘nice little earner’, trading in vehicles they have declared a ‘write off’ when in fact they were not.

Once convinced they will pay you what they term as “scrap value” which amounts to very little. They then sell it off to ‘associates’ in the motor trade who will carry out the necessary repairs and sell it off at auction at a nice little profit, or, if beyond repair, will do likewise with any spare parts that can be reused.

They tried this on with me, which is why I decided to obtain my own independent valuation and pay for the repairs myself. When challenged however, they rescinded their original ‘write off ‘N’ category but repairable’ claim and sent me a cheque for part payment of repairs. The amount I received exactly equaled the increased premium I was forced to pay them upon reporting the accident, and so I effectively received nothing.

This, in my view, is malpractice but considered normal by insurance companies. Which? need to chase this up,
especially as, in this instance, it occurred with NFU, their top rated Insurance Company.

Many thanks Alfa. I’ve been into settings and altered a few sliders, so that may make a difference(… Neighbors …) No it doesn’t so it’s back to the drawing board. Thanks for your help Alfa. I’m currently using Microsoft Edge, but have only noticed the problem on Which? Conversation so far.

Vynor, try clicking on:
Settings and more – the three horizontal dots in the top right-hand corner of your browser screen – you should see a drop-down menu.
Go go down to Settings
Next screen on the left hand side click on Languages and you should see Languages and Check Spelling on the right-hand side.

My order of Preferred languages is
– Engligh (United Kingdom)
– English
– English (United States)

Check Spelling I have
Enable spellcheck
English (United Kingdom)
– English (United Kingdom) toggled blue for on
– English toggled off
– English (United States) toggled off

Haha, cross-posting.🙂
Your link is to set up US English but does show how to add languages where UK English will be listed if Vynor doesn’t have it already.

“Write-off” is just a term used by the insurance industry to indicate that the particular line in the book has become redundant, usually because it is unprofitable for the insurer to repair the vehicle due to its age, condition, the time it would take, the cost of providing an alternative, and the amount of management involved in going through the process. It certainly does not mean that the vehicle is beyond economic repair; as Beryl says, they tend to be passed back down the trade in order to extract whatever value is left in it.

The final settlement of the claim is where the mysterious arts of insurance come into play and where the insurer has an unfair advantage so that ultimately the pay-out is less than satisfactory. The industry counters any such allegations by saying it is all done in the interests of keeping insurance costs as low as possible and that without it premiums would have to be much higher.

I entirely agree that Which?’s motoring experts should take a thorough look at this; it no doubt also applies to general and other classes of insurance cover.

Neighbour, favourite, colour, behaviour. … Totally brilliant, many thanks again for your time/s and trouble/s. It’s knowing where to look and, you did! I was in the Windows control panel.

Has anyone else come across Microsoft Editor? It’s an annoying little interferer in the Ms e-mail system which I encountered when I recently switched to Edge as my browser.

It doesn’t just do spelling but grammar, punctuation, style, vocabulary and other things. It kept underlining words and phrases in blue and telling me my language was too informal, or asking me to review whether I should be using a possessive pronoun, or suggesting I needed a comma between clauses, and even recommending me to omit words to make my message clearer for the reader.

If I disregarded the interruption it would not go away: the blue lines would be left staring at me until I sent the e-mail. Its nagging interference was irritating in the extreme but I couldn’t find any means of turning it off. Fortunately it only operated in e-mail, not in Word or in other composition like Which? Conversation.

Today I was trying to sort something else out and accidentally discovered, hidden away in the formatting icons for e-mail, the access to Editor and was able to reset it to save the spellcheck function and to switch off the functions I didn’t want. Contentment has now been restored, thank goodness.

I’ve not seen that one myself, even though I now have a W10 PC that I use with two Office 365 accounts. Given the reported level of annoyance, this Editor sounds like a descendent of Mr paperclip.

The paperclip, officially Clippit but usually referred to as Clippy created immense annoyment among those who had not worked out how to disable it. Somewhat embarrassingly, it was created on a Mac: Clippy now has a minor cult following.

A ‘write off’, as you say John, for insurance purposes means the total cost of repair is more than the vehicle is worth on the open market, dependent upon the type of car and perhaps, more importantly, the number of miles on the clock. My car has very low mileage for its age.

If I had surrendered to their demands, I would have been left with no car, and after deductions for excess etc., not enough to purchase even a used car and a huge doubling of the annual premium. When you are the innocent victim in an accident, that is a huge price to pay.

I would advise everyone to install a dash-cam in their car as it may save you a lot of hassle if you are unfortunate enough to be hit by another driver in the absence of close witnesses. It may ultimately increase annual premiums but it could save you the indignity of negotiating with an aggressive and insulting insurance assessor on the other end of the phone.

I second that, Beryl. Loss adjusters are not nice people to have to do business with. In my experience they are perfectly polite but hard as nails. They are paid to save their insurer clients’ money so have to earn their keep.

I have always felt there ought to be a way to insure a car and be guaranteed in the event of theft or total loss to get a sum that will replace what you have lost like-for-like, i.e. if you lose a 2018 Ford Focus you should get enough back to buy another one with more or less the same mileage and specification. I know several people who have suffered a considerable shortfall and have never heard of anyone getting what they needed.

When I bought my current car I learned that I would need gap insurance to avoid the risk of a considerable shortfall in what an insurer would pay out if my car was written off or stolen in the first year. I remember asking the salesman if they did insurance against insurance companies.

Which? have an excellent article on GAP ( Guaranteed asset protection) insurance for cars.

Many insurers pay the full value of the car if it is written off or stolen in the first year.

Gap insurance seems to have more options than I remember when I paid for it eight years ago. I do look at Which? articles online because it’s a useful source of unbiased information.

Gap insurance was the only extra that the salesman managed to sell me. I do recall looking at other companies but they were no cheaper.

GAP insurance is a relatively recent introduction following the rise in the number of thefts of new cars through mimicking the electronic key signals. The biggest percentage depreciation is in the first year so there was a ready market for it. After the first year, however, insurance does not fully compensate for the drop in value; I am sure that is for valid commercial reasons and drivers probably know the reality of the situation – but that doesn’t stop it hurting when it happens, especially when the owner has made no contribution whatsoever to the cause of the loss.

The recent major Windows 10 update to 20H2 switched my keyboard language to English US. But it is also easy to accidentally toggle the language with the shortcut Alt+Shift. The shortcut can be disabled.

The news continues to improve. From New Scientist this morning:

“Initial fears that the virus would fail to raise immune memory – the lengthy, sometimes lifelong, protection that we get from exposure to many viruses including measles – look exaggerated. It is still early days, but signs from patients point to a strong and long-lasting immune response.

That is welcome news for two reasons. It makes a vaccine more likely, and means that people who have recovered from the virus almost certainly can’t get it again, at least in the short term.’

That is good news, let’s hope it doesn’t mutate.

I assume that the proposed vaccine targets the virus spike protein, which can vary. One technique that has been used in designing antibiotics for bacterial infections is to target a more stable component of the envelope thus avoiding the problem of mutation. I wonder if this approach is possible in the case of the virus and if so, whether it has been tested.

Welcome to Maths 2.0 Day, the day in 1099 when 15,000 starving Christian soldiers marched in around Jerusalem as its Muslim defenders looked on and the day in 1777 the US independent Vermont introduced a new constitution, prohibiting slavery.

If poison expires, is it more poisonous or is it no longer poisonous?

That’s a deadly secret.

A fool and his poison are soon departed.


Which letter is silent in the word “Scent,” the S or the C?

A few scilent here, though.

The word “swims” upside-down is still “swims”

Welcome to the Great British Pea Week, the day in 1971 when Kissinger visited the PRC to negotiate a detente between the US and China and the day in 2002 when the African Union was established in Addis Ababa.

Why is there a ‘D’ in fridge, but not in refrigerator?

Because frige-freezer does not sound right.

That’s just it. It’s colloquial, people said it like that and spelt it as they heard it.
The idea was first thought about by Oliver Evans and in 1844 John Gory, an American, created the first machine that made cold air, based on Evans’ idea. He used this for medical purposes.
In 1857 James Harrison made the first ice making machine for use with food. The first refrigerator that we know of was built by Carl Von Linde in 1876. We Brits decided that the word ‘refrigerator’ was too much of a mouthful and when the refrigerator became a household item, it was shortened and the d added to this abbreviation. Without it we would have fr-eye-g-e or even fr-eye-je in pronunciation as the vowel lengthened before the e. Refrigerate has a Latin origin: Refrigeratorium
I’ve looked diligently in my fridge and can’t find a D anywhere inside, though there may be a few peas in the freezer.

A refrigerator is the best example I can think of as a mini cool home dairy which replaced the old pantry.

Frigid means very cold anyway (as well as its other meaning), so as frigid also has an entirely different slightly derogatory meaning, the logical thing to do was to rearrange the letters slightly and add an ‘e’ to replace one of the ‘i’s’ and hey presto! you are left with a refrigerator that is now a frigid fridge.

Well that’s my theory!

And a very good one too Beryl!

I have one fridge magnet on my refrigeratorium. It is positioned to prevent the handle of an adjacent cupboard door from denting the fridge.

Was Carl Von Linde the original fridge magnate?
Wavechange, is your appliance in a cubiculum utilitarium like Jacob R -M’s?

Linde’s name is remembered in the name of a huge supplier of industrial gases, which took over our British BOC. 🙁 One of his other achievements was to fractionate liquid air into nitrogen and oxygen.

I realise that my one fridge magnet is on the freezer, not the fridge, but both in the kitchen.

I’ve just looked up Jacob and see he has children with unusual names.

I had the same problem wavechange. Luckily some rather fetching silver pipe insulation solved the problem.

We could start an ‘undented fridge door club’, Alfa. Maybe there are other alternatives that we have not thought of.

If money doesn’t grow on trees, how come Banks have Branches?

Because they’re Barkleys up the wrong tree.

Money doesn’t grow in banks any more.

If a Vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a Humanitarian eat?


Human beans.

Like it!


Welcome to Teddy Bear Picnic Day, the day in 1991 when Boris Yeltsin was sworn in as the first elected President of the Russian Federation and the day in 2012 when the American Episcopal Church became the first to approve a rite for blessing gay marriages.

How do you get off a non-stop Flight?

We don’t. We are already travelling in perpetuity at 460 meters per second, or roughly 1,000 miles per hour on planet earth. Earth also moves around our sun in an elliptical movement at a speed of nearly 30km per second, or 67,000 miles per hour. Our galaxy is moving at a speed of 1.3 million miles per hour.

Who would want to get off?

Why do we put cups in the dishwasher and the dishes in the Cupboard?

How about pants in the pantry?

Do you only keep lard in the………… oh, never mind🤕

When “in your cups” you may prefer to dish the dirt.

Why do they call it a TV ‘set’ when there is only one?

‘Television receiver’ is a bit of a mouthful.

Only pedants like me call it a television set these days. Most people just call it a TV or a television. Years ago what we now call a radio was called a wireless set [or, for the purists, a wireless receiver] and that was later reduced to just a ‘wireless’. As well as ‘a radio’ we also have ‘the radio’ which can also mean the programmes broadcast by radio signals. Likewise, ‘the television’ can also mean a programme broadcast by television signals.

I suppose a television was originally called a set because it contained a large number of separate components that had to be assembled as a set in order to make it work. Now they are so reliant on internal software to provide programmes not being broadcast simultaneously that the failure or refusal of the original manufacturer to maintain that functionality through external support seriously undermines their utility.

Crystal set never became crystal. We speak of turning the telly on, despite it no longer having a rotary switch. The sun has now come out so time to carry on weeding.

Wireless usually means something else now, John.

Does anyone else remember the ‘Royalty has been paid…’ labels on the back of television receivers? Here is an example:

I believe the term “crystal set” refers to a set where a “cat’s whisker” is used with a piece of crystalline germanium to make a point contact semiconductor diode, as the basis of a simple AM receiver.

Presumably, some earlier sets may have used thermionic valve diodes instead.

The early crystal sets used a piece of galena (lead sulphide) and the ‘cat’s whisker’ was a piece of wire that could be adjusted so that the device acted as a semi-conductor. When I was a school kid it had become normal to use a germanium diode instead, and it requires no adjustment.

Crystal radios were manufactured commercially at one time. As Derek says, a diode valve (tube for our US friends) could be used instead of a crystal or diode but I do not know if this was done.

I’m interested in the royalty mentioned on the label above. I presume that this augmented the licence fee payable to the GPO by owners of television and radio receivers. The requirement for radio licences ended in 1971.

According to my dictionary “A set is made up of each of a set of standardised units called modules that can be used to construct a more complex structure, such as an item of furniture or a building.”

Therefore a TV is a set within a set, set within a set place.

Mines set firmly on the wall 🙂

I’m off to join Malcolm in the garden as the sun has broken through the gloom!

I came in after clearing a rose bed of a barrow load of bindweed. If only we could eat it; surely it has some uses? I’ve earned a cup of tea then I’ll do a bit more weeding.

My gardening has filled my bin, a neighbour’s bin (with permission), my spare bin and a gardening bag. That has put paid to gardening until the bins have emptied but I could have a go at weeding.

This afternoon we had torrential rain, thunder, lighting and the grass became covered in hailstones. Some of the hailstones came down the chimney and landed on the hearth rug. We are now back to brilliant sunshine, like it was a couple of hours ago.

Nowadays a TV set could be one for every room. 🙁

Percy Shaw – of cats eye fame- had 3 TVs in one room tuned to each of the (then only) three channels, so he didn’t miss anything (I believe). You’d need more than 160 now, and eyes like a fly. Even then you might find it hard to see anything worth watching.

I have only one TV, which seems enough. If I wanted to watch TV in another room I could watch it on a laptop if I felt the need.

More on “set”. Below I refer to an order from M&S that included underpants. They were a pack of 5, and each is labelled “5 part set”. I presume they are therefore aimed at a decapod, such as a prawn (quite a big one).

Well, if damaged it could be a Prawnbroker…

Or a badger even……….

I’ve obviously been diddled. I’ve only got three parts in my set.

Ian, he’s boasting again 🙂



John – The number of pieces of underwear could have been the subject of a Which? ‘Brief cases’ report, but they have been rebranded as ‘Legal advice’.

While on the subject, I have never understood why some wish to have another man’s name emblazoned on the waistband of their chosen undergarments.

I expect its for marketing purposes.

I don’t know how many potential customers are expected to examine other people’s underpants for marketing purposes or when they might even have the opportunity 🙁

I don’t want to wear other people’s underwear either. I have never understood why on outer garments we have to advertise the brand, except to show how expensive our clothes are. If that is for marketing purposes we should be paid to do it.

I think I’ve still got some marked St Michael, but fortunately this is on the label inside.

The average British building bloke seems to be the main advertiser of the famous-names underpants. It’s a good way of demonstrating that their profits are excessive.

Didn’t their mums tell them that if the name was showing they were on inside-out?

Isn’t that what you do on day 2?

I won’t be following your example. 🙂

Neither will I. 🙁

Good thing too, Malcolm. Inadvertent back-to-front is bad enough inconvenience.

St Michael the Archangel is the patron saint of grocers, police officers, military personnel and doctors…….. but not boxers unfortunately 🙂

He still performs a useful function in girding and guarding our loins even though he might now be employed in Bangladesh or Sri Lanka or other low-wage economies.

I remember Jeremy Paxman had a problem with his personal apparel and took it right to the top of M&S whereupon, at a special lunch for him hosted by the Chief Executive, a male model entered the room dressed only in the latest range of undershorts and posed and postured for the noted inquisitor’s detailed examination. I hope he came away with a decent package.

[Other customers don’t get this treatment if they complain. It only came about because a minion in the company leaked details of the celebrity complaint and a diplomatic remedy was granted].

Was the M&S CEO a past alumni of his old university hosting the procedure, at the ready to shout “No comparing” instead of “No conferring.”

I expect he was an alumnus, but I don’t want to start a rowe.

I stand corrected ……….should have read “part of a past uni alumni.”

Sorry Beryl, but it was an excuse to introduce a feeble joke.

Paxman went to St Catharine’s College at Cambridge University; Stuart Rose went straight into a business career after school becoming possibly the most experienced and successful UK retailer ever having headed up lots of different well-known high street companies over time. He eventually received an honorary doctorate in law from Leeds University.

To carry on the semantic discussion, if Paxman had been female she would have been an alumna [the plural of which is alumnae].

Quite right John, I used the masculine plural alumni instead of the masculine singular alumnus, as Wavechange quickly picked up on.

My spellcheck doesn’t recognise the word and keeps showing aluminium, another tricky word which has an entirely different pronunciation in the US – ie: Al-um-inum instead of our Alu-minium.

Sounds like we should enrol Jacob R -M as a contributor.

Beryl – If Americans used the name ‘aluminium’, Tom Lehrer’s song about the elements would not rhyme:

Sounds more like pandemonium Wavechange! Did he actually complete the whole periodic table plus? I would bet Jacob Rees-Mogg would make light work of that Malcolm.

Lehrer’s list of elements reached nobelium (atomic number 102). When I was a student the printed periodic tables showed lawrencium (103) and a number of others have since been discovered. Only about 80 are stable.

I recall many years ago watching Carl Sagan on TV who introduced us to praseodymium (atomic number 59). At a later date, during a chemistry lesson one of my sons was asked to name one of the periodic table elements and the only one he had heard of was Carl Sagan’s praseodymium. I don’t think his teacher had heard of it and thought he had made it up so it must be one of the later elements, a soft pliable yellowish-green used for optical purposes besides other things.

Excellent. It’s important to help teachers to keep up. 🙂

One of my school friends (about 12 years old) asked our biology teacher: “What exactly is an enzyme” when we he had been introducing us to amylase in saliva, the enzyme that breaks down starch. The teacher’s response was that ‘an enzyme is a thermolabile, proteinaceous organic catalyst’. I was impressed by Mr Cressy, our chemistry teacher and he was probably pleased with his prompt reply.

Praseodymium is one of the ‘rare earth’ elements, which have found a variety of uses. Perhaps the best known one is neodymium, which is used in small but extremely powerful magnets.

We are in difficult economic times. We will be paying people who are not working. We have also been supporting companies with taxpayers’ money and by paying furloughed staff. I am expecting something in return.

Rather than paying people not working l’d like to see real jobs created. That means making stuff in the UK that we currently buy from abroad. I have just, for example, bought underpants and trousers from Marks and Spencer; made in Bangladesh. I would have paid more to have them made in the UK; with modern production techniques I don’t see why they should still not be at sensible prices.

This would need cooperation and investment from M&S in this case but supporting an efficient manufacturing industry in the UK is, in my view, one of the keys to regaining prosperity. Taking advantage of slave labour in far way places with little regulation does not seem a fair strategy.

However, I may be on my own here.

Marks & Spencer carried on making clothes in the UK for longer than many companies, which is why I continued to buy from them but eventually went the same way as the others.

Some of us are happy to pay more for UK products, but with the exception of food it seems a limited market at the present time.

No you are not Malcolm. There are enough people who originate from Bangladesh now settled in Lancashire and Yorkshire textile regions who could produce well made clothing at reasonable prices, subject of course to UK minimum wage regulations.

A couple of months ago farmers were forecasting a post Brexit shortage of essential crop pickers as immigrants had up-sticks and headed home. This week Mr Rishi Sunak announced measures to provide new jobs for 300,000 young people, so there is no potential shortage of labour following lockdown.

What is needed in these uncertain times is a few enterprising younger people with government financial backing to start the wheels turning again on our shores so that we become less reliant on China, one if the biggest global polluters, at the same time taking into account environmental issues, which could prove a thorn in the works if not given sufficient attention at pre-planning stages.

I agree, Beryl.

I formed the impression that ‘risky’ Rishi Sunak was heading in that direction, but the only thing that will really unlock the manufacturing economy, as well as the service sector, is the end of social distancing but that will only come about when there is a Covid-19 vaccine available in large quantities.

There still are clothing factories in this country but it is a sad fact that, in order to compete with the ‘fast fashion’ tat that is imported for sale on the internet and in the popular outlets, feel obliged to underpay their workers, operate unsafe working practices, and flout other legal requirements on employment rights and protections.

Certainly not Malcolm, I agree entirely.

It would be helpful if Which? identified products made in the UK in its reviews.

At present I rarely venture into supermarkets that are not UK owned, but Aldi and Lidl are increasing their market share, so although they provides jobs for our workers, profits head overseas. At present I am buying energy from a UK company. In my view it is very sad that we have allowed other countries to gain a foothold in our energy industry.

John mentions the unethical practices that make it so much cheaper to manufacture in other countries, but often the goods are made for companies we know and trust. Periodically there is a documentary showing the unsavoury side of business and change is promised. It’s one thing to turn a blind eye to what goes on in the third world, but here is a recent article about exploitation of workers in the UK:

Perhaps if Which? took a similar view to unethical production to the one they take on chlorinated chicken?

I would like information on overseas production – clothing, Apple products, Dyson stuff and so on – to see whether the labour used is properly treated and rewarded.

However, that aside, I would like to raise a buy British culture among those who are interested in the future of the UK. Making things here will increase employment, reduce imports, increase exports, give better access to the producers and be environmentally more friendly; well, that is what I would hope.

But it will only work if we invest in the latest production techniques. That will require incentives from government but not subsidies that line the owners pockets.

I agree with you malcolm.

British businesses need some kind of ring-fencing to prevent them being sold abroad or to hedge funds/investors/asset strippers who have no interest in the businesses other than what they can make out of it or to competitors whose sole aim is to reduce competition. Why is it legal to buy a thriving business then load it with debt?

Farmers have a problem finding labour, so a solution would be to grow food near universities so students can earn while they learn.

You will find raw chicken in UK supermarkets with salt listed as an ingredient. Could that mean it has been chlorinated?

I’ve suggested before that Ethical Consumer might be a useful source of information that could be used by Which? to provide us with with information about brands. EC was mentioned by another contributor a few years ago. They don’t mention Dyson products but Apple has fared well in EC assessments of phones, much better than Samsung for example: It’s interesting to see Fairphone being praised.

I’m keen that the UK is involved in designing products and not just assembling them for companies based in other countries. If we want the UK to be compete with China etc. how do we persuade consumers to pay more at a time when many are going to struggle financially?

The vegetarian/vegan movement has gained many supporters, like organic food, so perhaps promoting ethical products could be the way forward, at least for the many who can afford them.

I would start a British manufacturing revival by setting up the design and production of home grown electric vehicles with all their components and batteries. I’d rather see any government help given to this rather than giving a subsidy to those consumers with enough money to buy one.

Perhaps Which? could campaign for this?

We have started with a more specialist application, but lithium batteries are now being manufactured in the UK:

Alfa wrote: “You will find raw chicken in UK supermarkets with salt listed as an ingredient. Could that mean it has been chlorinated?” It will be for flavouring since disinfection with chlorine-based chemicals or others is not permitted in the UK at present.

Wavechange – It was factories in the UK that I was referring to in my comment about underpaying their workers, operating unsafe working practices, and flouting other legal requirements on employment rights and protections. I didn’t name names or places because I was not entirely sure of the allegations, I didn’t know whether there were others, and there seemed doubt whether all the allegations were applicable to all the examples that have been cited by trade unions.

I would rather a UK retailer source their stock from a foreign company adhering to the legal requirements and conditions in its home country than a UK-based company operating what used to be called a sweat shop and exploiting workers who are disadvantaged by cultural norms, language difficulties, or a lack of representation.

I completely agree, John. Unfortunately there are are some examples of people being exploited in the UK, such as the example I gave about the clothing industry and there are also Eastern European crop pickers that are payed the minimum possible and charged for very substandard accommodation during their stays. At least it is easier to keep tabs on what is happening in this country than on the other side of the globe.

I think the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority has got to grips with a lot of the exploitation in the crop-picking industry and other seasonal manual labour operations, but there are still many casual workers employed on farms directly by the growers and that is harder to tackle; I don’t know if it remains a problem because the labour shortage has made recruitment much more competitive. Factories that act virtually as closed communities with inadequate wages and protection are getting orders for their products from somewhere and it would not surprise me if investigations identified links with digital marketplace traders.

In the service sector, there continue to be newspaper reports of exploitation and poor health and safety practices in small firms employing illegal immigrants usually of the same ethnicity as the proprietors; raids by the UK Border Force with police support and HSE and local authority back-up take place from time to time.

It makes it difficult to ensure that things are all above board in the service economy because so many workers have opted for a zero hours contract – usually for the want of any alternative, but that makes it hard to ensure adequate income levels or to enforce hours of work restrictions, and safe working practices.

I do hope so. It’s not a subject I can relate to.

I’m not sure what we as consumers can do to support UK businesses other than try to retain the ones we have and avoid companies that are known to behave unethically. There is little we as individuals can do to protect businesses from being bought up as Alfa has described.

I wonder how many people would pay more to support more ethical companies.

I remember a ‘Buy British’ campaign in the ’60s or ’70s, I think. I always remember thinking that with the dismal state of British cars, for example, why would anyone want to buy British?

We do produce but, as Trump has found out, the clock can’t be easily turned back in a global production scenario. We lead the world in some areas, but not in clothing or heavy industries. However, we have a thriving export market in weaponry, intellectual properties, consultancies, Engineering (still), aircraft engines, aircraft wings and a lot of software.

But there’s a big problem: the push towards University for All has created a chasm between the achievers in STEM subjects and those who barely scraped the odd pass in woodwork. Combine that with the traditional lack of investment courage on the part of British companies and you have a real problem.

In a nutshell, we’re good at intellectually demanding stuff and not so good at producing cheap consumer merchandise.

Aircraft engines and wings is not an industry that will thrive for some time.
As an innovative nation – we led the industrial revolution and were the workshop for the world – we can manufacture competitively providing we do not give way to restrictive practices that bedevilled industry, and providing we invest in the means of production that removes manual labour.

I think that we need to support our own country, particularly when times are tough. That may mean paying a bit more for food and products but there will be consequent gains to the economy. So I would “back Britain”.

I’ll return to an earlier proposal. Our government wants to get us out of fossil fuelled vehicles and into electric. As there are over 38 million cars in the Uk that seems such an obvious product to develop and manufacture.

Homing in on previous MEP debates, it became very apparent where the future manufacturing and economic growths of both Germany and France were heading.

As the UK economy, over time, gradually diminished to number five in global economic and manufacturing output ratings, lagging behind the US, China, Japan and Germany, with it’s emphasis on financial, agricultural and service industries, the UK was covertly and quietly becoming sidelined and in danger of being reduced to a small accessory off the coast of a large federal type European Superstate.

Mr Farage, love him or hate him, with his outspoken and somewhat belligerent assertions was all too aware of what was gradually occurring, but his bold responses unfortunately, were conducted in such a manner they were rendered either too incredulous and unacceptable and were quickly dismissed by the remaining 27 other EU countries.

We are not out of the woods yet, and now with the added
delay and financial burden caused by COVID-19,
negotiations are only just recently being resumed. The UK’s future is uncertain but we are made of stronger stuff. The proof of the pudding will depend upon the wisdom, strength and leadership of the present elected government and the willingness of the people to cooperate and put the interests of the country before their own.

malcolm r says: Today 11:31

Aircraft engines and wings is not an industry that will thrive for some time.

You may well be right, although I suspect air travel will rapidly resume once one of the 149 vaccines currently under development becomes widely available .

As an innovative nation – we led the industrial revolution and were the workshop for the world – we can manufacture competitively providing we do not give way to restrictive practices that bedevilled industry, and providing we invest in the means of production that removes manual labour.

Restrictive practices are largely a thing of the past. But you wish to remove manual labour from the equation.

That’s a problem. If we assume at least two thirds of workers can only work manually, and those needed to design this automated nirvana will have to have been University educated, then what role do you see for those unable to progress through University?

I think that we need to support our own country, particularly when times are tough. That may mean paying a bit more for food and products but there will be consequent gains to the economy. So I would “back Britain”.

Hmmm. Not at sure about that. You talk about supporting our own country, but we are, in reality, citizens of the world; this country is merely a birthplace for some. I’m not at all sure why thousands should be deprived of work simply so a few can become very wealthy, which I suspect is what would happen.

“Backing Britain”, Thatcher’s motto of choice, I believe, is something of a fallacy, in the days of the TransNats and international company ownerships.

Fortunately, we have history to guide us, here. In 1967 a campaign started by five secretaries captured the national imagination. They called on every factory and office worker to volunteer for half an hour’s unpaid overtime every week. The scheme, called I’m Backing Britain, quickly gathered momentum.

But it just as quickly ran into problems. Although thousands donated half an hour’s unpaid overtime to companies, the only real benefits were felt by shareholders. Bruce Forsyth brought out a record which only sold around 7000 copies and the final calamity was when organisers of the campaign had decided to have thousands of T-shirts made, bearing the I’m Backing Britain slogan and the union flag on the front. They looked fantastic. The only problem was they had “made in Portugal” labels.

It was cheaper and quicker to have them manufactured on the Continent.

I’ll return to an earlier proposal. Our government wants to get us out of fossil fuelled vehicles and into electric. As there are over 38 million cars in the Uk that seems such an obvious product to develop and manufacture.

Indeed, and we should embrace that sort of technological shift with open arms. But working, manually or not, is only part of the picture. Employment is important for good mental health, so to create an economy which would only work for the highly skilled would, I suspect, be a grave misstep.

There are plenty of jobs that require labour outside manufacturing.

Sadly there is something of an obsession about the need to manufacture more, yet in other Convos we bemoan the fact that we don’t keep products for long and hence need replacements. We have Christmas and other consumerismfests when we buy many unwanted gifts as somewhat unwelcome surprises. It’s not reasonable to expect ‘tech’ goods to last a long time because of advancing technology but many other products could and should be designed to last for much longer than they do.

Some jobs require considerable intellectual ability but a great many jobs don’t require manual labour and can be very rewarding for employees. It surprises me that anyone could gain satisfaction in operating a supermarket till or taking orders in a restaurant but they do. Their jobs might be rather repetitive but they are not just manual tasks.

A small amount of stress in our lives is useful but the failure of employers to recognise and deal with stress is a major failing. Job problems can also result in people using alcohol etc. as a means of escape.

Ian wrote: “We lead the world in some areas, but not in clothing or heavy industries.” Yes, and I have suggested that we should capitalise on what we are good at rather than investing in areas where we have failed to be competitive in the past.

We have shown how good we are at manufacturing in the past. Where we failed was our lack of investment particularly after WW2. Then look at, for example, Germany, Japan, and other countries that rebuilt their industry and produce cars, buses, construction plant, trucks, TVs, washing machines, cameras……. the list goes on. Because they invested, just as China has done.

We are an innovative nation, good at design, research and development. But we need to turn those good ideas into products and that needs investment. Why make expensive vacuum cleaners in Malaysia instead of Devizes and support the UK? We need an ethos of investment, incentives to support new industry, to make real jobs available and to change imports into exports.

With over 30 million private cars likely to be replaced by electric vehicles in the next 15 years, and the same happening internationally, what better time to make them ourselves.

Yes we are good at research, design and development but we have not been very successful in manufacturing many household goods. We could boost our economy by doing more research, design and development.

You are clearly referring to Dyson’s relocation of manufacturing abroad, Malcolm. Dyson is a very successful British company, but I’m not sure it would have been a good idea to subsidise them so that manufacture could have continued in this country.

As I said earlier, we need to invest to be competitive at manufacturing. We have not done that.

Yes, I refer to Dyson. He has made a huge amount of money out of overpriced products that were innovative. They could have been made in the UK and benefitted the UK economy without subsidy. Investing some of the profits in building manufacturing instead of buying up a large area of farmland might have been better for us. 🙂

R&D only boosts our economy significantly if we turn it into products people need. Selling it for others to capitalise on does not help a great deal. if I design an innovative product I make the most money by then producing and selling the product. And, of course, providing more useful employment.

Should we design a really good electric vehicle then just let someone else manufacture them by the million?

How would you have persuaded Dyson to continue manufacturing in the UK?

At present coronavirus has left the UK with large debts so I wonder what we can now afford to invest in other than agriculture to feed ourselves.

When you are dealing with a country that has no ethics other than those it chooses to adopt and which holds two fingers up to any who protest; when the response to hostility is the threat of a cyber attack to put us in our place and when its trading strategy is to buy as many international companies as it can, there is more to a British revival than just increasing our manufacturing base. China has become the go to nation for a large amount of what the world buys and that is partly because our manufacturers have moved there instead of producing locally. Could we persuade them to move back? This would mean persuading the British public that low cost goods are harmful and we should pay more as a kind of manufacturing tax to buy British. It would mean persuading other countries to pay more for our products, when we export them, because they are not made in China. In the end, when we see a bargain we think of our wallets more than we think of the consequences of our purchase. Currently, we have no choice. I have just bought a Chinese steam iron, because the European manufacturer gave me no option to do otherwise. Over the World that is the same story. We are looking at a huge revolution in thought and action to change this situation. Many wish for that change, but not hard enough to make it happen – yet.

We attract other industries to the UK. But I would like to think that an element of patriotism might exist rather than, seemingly, self interest. Perhaps too much to expect.

Maybe we could divert money from building new roads and HS2 to more productive use.

However, private investment is what is needed to build industry. Government can assist and in return cut the cost of unemployment to the taxpayer. We cannot survive and thrive on food production and financial services. We need to diversify.

Should we not bother to produce electric vehicles? Just rely on foreign companies to profit from our consumption?

We have many productive companies, as you can see from the link I provided recently. I’ve said many times that if we can reduce the amount of commuting we could reduce the demand for rail and road building. The coronavirus restrictions have shown that many can work successfully at home and I know people who have welcomed the opportunity.

I agree that private investment could help.

I agree with Vynor that it would be worth exploring the opportunity to make it worthwhile to avoid imports.

Ah. HS2 – plenty of opportunity for manual workers there, then. But I suspect hoping people will invest because of ‘patriotism’ is somewhat fanciful. Even our MPs don’t do that, so whom do you expect will? HS2 is perhaps the most patriotic endeavour and one that will provide employment for thousands, but as long as we have private companies and Capitalism I would suggest patriotism will take a back seat.

The UK is good at innovation and ideas. That’s what we sell, and sell well. I remember there were some superbly efficient and very profitable nationalised industries in the past. That didn’t suit the government’s agenda, however, so they were sold off.

There has been no credible business case published for HS2 but it is too late now. We can create jobs quite easily; one person digs a hole in the ground, another fills it in. What we need is productive employment.

Capitalism means making money out of endeavour. It is the incentive. Design a good product, manufacture it efficiently and you profit from every one sold. Simply having a good idea but letting other people profit from it does not produce continuing income. We have the ability to prosper from manufacturing, just as do other countries.

It would be interesting to see what nationalised industries were world leaders.

Thomas Cook was pretty good, Rolls Royce, Pickfords, National Grid and many others were sold off because they were extremely successful, Short term gain for what?

Yes, and it is particularly worrying in my view that National Grid allowed other countries to gain a foothold in one of our essential industries.

I am not so sure about Pickfords. They were an overhang from the post-war nationalisation of the road haulage industry and when the other companies failed or collapsed [remember Carter Patterson and British Road Services?] after competition was reintroduced, Pickfords was left as the ugly duckling in the national portfolio – uncompetitive, unloved, and prone to excessive customer complaints – so it had to go.

National Grid was ‘successful’ because the nationalised electricity generator [CEGB] was compelled to use it so it had a total monopoly of power distribution and it still has for national and inter-regional supplies. It was also ‘successful’ under nationalisation because it did not have to make a profit but would have all its costs met by the heavily-subsidised and inefficient electricity supply boards. Since the regional and local distribution of electricity was separated from the new power generators that replaced the CEGB there has been more competition and pricing transparency as well as regulatory intervention. The company now includes gas distribution and has expanded territorially with an American market for electricity and gas that exceeds in capacity the UK one and returning profits to the UK. That would not have been possible under a nationalised framework at the time.

Rolls-Royce [not Rolls-Royce Motors] had its moments with pioneering developments in aero engines, gas turbines and small nuclear power plants that were very profitable, but they were volatile industries as is now very apparent. The investment requirements were huge and its international reach made it unsuited to being a nationalised industry. It is questionable whether it could have survived without having been privatised.

There was no particular logic in Thomas Cook remaining under government control. It was not able to compete successfully with the largely foreign-owned holiday and tour operators that entered the UK travel market from the 1960’s onwards and offered a more aspirational package. That it subsequently collapsed is unfortunate but largely due to bad management of what was a vastly improved product under private ownership.

National grid became more efficient after sell off. Rolls Royce aero engines went broke. Pickford became BRS I’d I remember correctly and failed through lack of a properly coordinated network. When state industries are monopolies and the receive state subsidy the inefficiency and lack of enterprise and innovation is partly hidden. Only when they face open competition do the real deficiencies become apparent.

Where we do fail in privatisation, such as the rail infrastructure and the rolling stock, is dispersing and losing the “technical “ knowledge. The commercial part is where the businesses needed reforming but the nuts and bolts support is essential to support it.

John: you put your finger on it when you said

“That would not have been possible under a nationalised framework at the time.

The rules under which the Nationalised industries operated effectively prevented them from reinvesting and raising money on the market. This they were effectively hobbled from the off, the idea being to stop them competing with privately owned industries. In spite of that, companies like Thomas Cook did extremely well.

Of course, there will always be those who favour the private market and argue that any nationalised industry is ‘inefficient and wastes money’.

On a per patient basis, interestingly, the NHS is significantly more efficient than Bupa.

In my opinion, British Rail was a better-run operation than the hotch-potch of private companies that are currently involved. The railways are all but fully nationalised at the moment as the government has taken over full responsibility for revenue risk and is paying the operating companies their costs plus 2% for running more and bigger trains than demand requires in order to meet social distancing rules. Unfortunately it is being micro-managed by the civil servants at the Department for Transport rather than by railway experts. BR was effectively self-governing in its entirety but heavily dependent on Treasury support for its investment requirements, which was usually deficient. . . . So, yes, nationalisation can work if it is sensibly run and allowed to make investment decisions in accordance with a national strategy. Raitrack cruelly showed how not to do it in the private sector.

Problems with nationalisation were the monopoly, union power to disrupt nationally, wish to perpetuate a failing industry, lack of innovation, politically based decisions rather than rationale, and other factors that weigh against, in my view, the public interest. British Leyland (badly made and badly designed vehicles), GPO (expensive phone calls and waiting lists to get connected), British Waterways neglect- it took volunteers to realise the attraction of canals for leisure. Just examples of stifled innovation and incentive.
But over and above that I do not think the government and particularly the civil service have the acumen to take part in operating such undertakings. Think about the wholly inadequate contracts for the rail franchises, the tripling cost of HS2, the Crossrail debacle, the glaring lack of control of defence procurement costs, the selling off of the defence estate and lease-back costs, the list could go on. Bankrupt strategies for business but when you can just raid the taxpayer or build up huge debt you can get away with it, but only by mortgaging the future.

I think you are partly right about British Rail, John. What has been lost is the expertise that existed in running a national transport system and operating a national infrastructure. Those people understood the job. However, it was governments that set about reorganising it and made a pigs ear. So it doesn’t fill me with confidence that they could run it as an efficient enterprise. We need a national body of knowledgeable and competent people, free from political interference, to create the contracts for both the train operators and the infrastructure within which the commercial companies operate. Hard work and not something that can be fragmented or subject to a chopping and changing government policy.

I agree with that, Malcolm. There is little scope for innovation in publicly run organisations from local councils upwards.

You can add to your list the recently revealed PPE procurement which has reportedly cost £15bn. I don’t blame that on the NHS – they were stuck with the consequences of decisions taken by civil servants in the Department for Health and Social Care [who also managed to forget about social care homes]. But how on earth do you spend £15bn on plastic gloves and aprons, etc without somebody noticing? It’s what happens when we do things in a panic because of a lack of proper contingency planning and deliberate destocking of the strategic stores. Saving money at any cost is a government speciality.

Other options are available… Establishing nationalised companies in the commercial field would enable them to compete on the same terms, the only difference being that the profits would go to the exchequer. And in some cases government has to become involved.

Trains, however, are different. Almost every country in the EU exerts some degree of nationalisation over their train services, In Germany they’re all owned indirectly by the state, through a holding company. We travel around Europe on train quite a bit, and our experience shows that nationalisation doesn’t mean bad operation.

I have just bought a Makita electric planer and random orbital sander from Axminster Tools. I was pleasantly surprised to see they were “Made in the UK”. I see they have a factory in Telford, much of their production being exported. So we can do it. It would be better to see a UK company doing this.

Entrepreneurs with vision need to run companies, not civil servants. I wonder if we can point to a truly successful economy based upon nationalised industries? Some may hate the profit motive, but it is an incentive to innovate, work efficiently and motivate people. Even many of those who work for others are driven, at least partly, by a “profit” motive in selling their labour for an acceptable price.

China has been taking on the world and sweeping up its manufacturing base. It has been attractive enough for firms, worldwide, to outsource there and cut costs to keep ahead of the competition. At the same time China has had a hard and unrelenting commercial drive that scooped up intellectual property from elsewhere and allowed copies and fakes to flood the market. It has been quietly successful and, while many have disliked the tactics employed, they have accepted them. Hence most of what is on sale here is made in China. There is an increasing desire to counter China’s dominance and the virus has added to that thought pattern. Nevertheless it takes more than thought to change things and China’s grip on the market is huge and growing. We have watched our manufacturing industry decline here in the UK for decades and it is hard to see how we can recover that quickly. Would the public be willing to do without things made elsewhere while this is happening? Would we have a return to the glory British Leyland days when every shop steward had a strike placard at the back of his office ready for the next walk out. Would the government want to subsidise home grown products to boost demand? China does, but this is seen as unethical in other countries.

At some point the Chinese workforce’s demand for a better lifestyle, already underway, will drive up labour costs and reduce their competitiveness. However the future of much efficient manufacturing lies in automated and robotic production where labour costs and labour power is less important. That opens up new industries to make the equipment, put up the buildings, and carry out all the associated Jobs that support research, development, manufacturing and sales. A more educated workforce will be needed. But their will still be plenty of jobs that need people.

I agree that there is no quick fix, Vynor. When we think of UK manufacturing we often think about consumer goods and there is no doubt that most of them come from abroad, but these figures for UK exports paint a happier picture: Click on 25 years and progressive growth can be seen from 1996 to early in 2020 when the virus struck.

Perhaps we should study what we are already good at and diversifying into related areas. Surely this would be a better approach than starting by investing in areas where we have already demonstrated that we cannot compete.

Malcolm – I agree that a more educated workforce is needed and there is a need for more automation in manufacturing. Rather than bring in expertise from abroad, we could design the equipment needed.

Vynor mentioned that he had to buy a Chinese iron and many of us have been in this position. When it became difficult to buy products made in the UK I focused on buying ones made in the EU, but even that has become difficult or impossible ins some cases.

Several years ago I decided to equip my ‘new’ house with LED lighting, except for infrequently used lamps. I tried to find LED bulbs sold in shops (so that failures could be returned) and with a recognisable brand name and looked for ones made in the UK. There were well known brands but virtually all of the bulbs were made in China. The first I bought, branded Osram, was made in Italy but caused radio interference. The others are fine. I generally trust established brands to supply reasonable quality goods sourced from China and have not had any LED failures so far.

Clearly well known brands that have moved out of UK manufacturing have done this for a reason and until something happens I do not see much chance of change. I do not know what could be achieved to change the situation by embargoes or taxation.

I’ve just written a letter to my bank and have addressed it to my “local” branch manager. I know that the letter will never reach him/her and will end up in a central depot somewhere. I wonder if the bank have stolen my letter as I am not told that this will happen? It’s the same with phone calls, except you are aware that you are not speaking to the person you phoned or the place you thought you were phoning.

Likewise when writing to a CEO email address. But emails do generally go to an escalated department and I have had quite a few satisfactory resolutions via this route.

You have to check who you find listed as they can be out of date, but very useful:

P.S. glad you spelling is behaving itself now Vynor.

Even if emails to the ceo email address go to customer services, at least you have a proper email address, the opportunity to attach photos and can easily keep a copy of your correspondence, which you cannot usually do with a web-based contact form.

Welcome to World Population Day, the day in 1818 when Keats wrote “Gadfly” and the day in 1995 when 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men are massacred when Bosnian Serbs overrun the UN ‘safe haven’ of Srebrenica

The easiest time to add insult to injury is when you’re signing somebody’s cast.

Best to wait until they are better and it’s a cast-off.