Bombardier lost to Siemens. A sad day for British manufacturing, a sad day for Britain and a sad day for Enterprise Britain. Not only does Bombardier and its workforce suffer, but also dozens if not hundreds of suppliers to them.
Now is not the time to moan though. Now is the time to figure out why this happened. This has nothing to do with our social services, our NHS, our defence or any other big hole in our budget. It is simply because Siemens met the requirements of the tender better than Bombardier. Lets look at some of possible issues, especially as I have tendered against Siemens several times.
Let me start with a controversial one, so you can recover later on in the story. Siemens is Euro based and Bombardier is Sterling based. Despite the declining value of the pound even the price did not swing it. There is always the risk the pound goes the other way, in which case our manufacturing industry is even more challenged. Currency stability is important and having a bouncing currency like ours will not help us – only the bank traders who do the gambling for us gain. The real gamblers and losers are the manufacturers.
Then come the other issues. Of course I have neither seen the tender nor the submissions by these two competitors. But lets face some facts. Our rail industry is far behind that of other countries and especially Germany. I do not want to underestimate the skills at Bombardier, but they have little to practice on in their home country. High speed trains? We play at it. Double deckers? We have to preserve a Victorian infrastructure. Ticketing and pricing? We are not even close to other countries or attempting to make inroads.
I competed with Siemens about 10 years ago in major tenders, though small change compared to this one. We got on very well with our German friends (who were mostly English) and spent many enjoyable hours together at shows, waiting to make our presentations for tenders and propping up bars. That was the good news.
The bad news was that their product was excellent, indestructible and exceedingly well documented. Ours had more features, was more flexible, but had its challenging moments and the word indestructible was not really appropriate. Our documentation? I think they are still working on it, but it was not like we did not try. No, the Siemens team made an irritatingly good product.
We won more market share in the UK than they did by a mile for two reasons. We were cheaper and we were more flexible. When it comes to trains though, which is a safety driven product, this would be much more tricky. The detail in the tender must be mind blowing and you have to be very convincing to comply with each clause.
If we want DC’s dream of a manufacturing led recovery to take hold we have to get serious about our quality. We pay lawyers up to £1,000 an hour to write legal mumbo jumbo and we pay the gambling sections of our banks billions to do whatever they do, but we do not educate enough engineers and we do not value them. The days of exporting our costs are rapidly disappearing. We cannot even export it by continuous devaluation, so we have to build quality ourselves.
To achieve this we have a long road of catch up to follow and then we need to start overtaking. In the meantime I am gutted Bombardier lost the bid. Now lets learn from it, for them, for the country and for Enterprise Britain.