Britain makes wonderful things

Transcript of the speech by Sir James Bevan KCMG, British High Commissioner at a Formula One event at his residence 23 October 2013.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Sir James David Bevan KCMG


I am delighted to welcome you here this evening. First a few words of thanks.

I would like to thank NDTV and Siddharth Patankar for offering to bring this special edition of their award-winning show to my Residence. A superb production as ever, and congratulations on 10 successful years of the Car and Bike Show.

My thanks also to Mobil One, Vodafone, the McLaren Mercedes team and, of course, to a truly GREAT Briton, Jenson Button.

Jenson was the youngest ever British Formula One competitor. He became F1 World Champion in 2009, joining an auspicious list of British Champion Drivers.

According to Wikipedia, Jenson failed his first driving test - for getting too close to a parked vehicle. Once he retires from F1, he clearly has excellent credentials for a new career driving rickshaws in Delhi.

Our thanks to Jenson for sharing his insights into the world of Formula One. It truly is all thrills and spills. In fact being an F1 driver is just like being British High Commissioner, except I do slower tyre changes and don’t get to meet quite as many glamorous blondes.

My thanks to Karun Chandok, one of India’s pioneers as a Formula One driver. I am delighted that you could join us this evening. You have played a big part in helping to build up the F1 fanbase in India. It is certainly a first for us to host both British and Indian F1 drivers together.

My thanks also to the great British automotive brands that you see around the garden this evening. Names like Rolls Royce, Jaguar Land Rover, Aston Martin, Mini and Bentley tell their own story about the UK’s contribution to automotive excellence over the decades.

Which brings me to JCB, our partners for this third Indian Grand Prix weekend. Those of us who travel around India know that JCB is playing a direct role in India’s development. JCB’s yellow diggers (the technical term is back hoe loader) are now an essential part of India’s landscape, helping dig wells and build roads and airports. More than 50% of the yellow diggers you see in India are JCBs, and they are the best there is.

JCB also plays a vital role in F1. If you go to Noida on Sunday, you will see JCB cranes (technical term: load-alls) there by the track to help lift F1 cars out of trouble if they need it.

McLaren and Formula One

I also want to mention McLaren, the team for whom Jenson drives. This year is the 50th anniversary of the founding of McLaren Motor-Racing. McLaren are based in the UK, and they are the second oldest F1 team in existence - second only to an Italian team whose name I have forgotten. McLaren is also one of the most successful of all F1 teams: 182 Grand Prix wins, 12 drivers’ championships, 8 constructors’ championships.

Formula One and the UK

It’s not just McLaren which has close links with the UK: the whole of F1 does. Eight of the eleven F1 teams are based in Britain. Every single F1 car has a UK imprint, whether in the design, the R&D which goes into such sophisticated machines, the assembly of the vehicle or the manufacture of the components. When you look at an F1 car, what you are looking at is British engineering excellence.

That excellence has its own ecosystem. There are some 25,000 world class engineers in the UK who contribute to the success of F1. There are 4,500 companies involved in F1 and the associated motorsport and performance engineering industries.

And that excellence has its own spin offs. British F1 designer Mike Spindle has created an all terrain wheelchair inspired by the carbon fibre shell of an F1 car. It has a sleek design, a bucket seat, and hi-spec drum brakes. It needs those brakes because it goes twice as fast as a standard wheelchair – and it looks ten times as good.

The UK makes a lot of cars

We don’t just make F1 cars in the UK. We make a lot of other cars too. There is a myth that the UK car industry is dead. In fact the exact opposite is true: we make more cars in Britain today than we have ever made - 1.5 million last year. And we export those cars to over 100 countries worldwide.

The UK is now home to 19 of the world’s top 20 automobile manufacturers. Toyota’s plant in the UK is one of the most modern in the world.

The first ever mass-produced zero emission car, the Nissan Leaf, is being built in the UK.

We also make a lot of engines in the UK: over 2.5m a year. BMW has sited its global Centre for 4 Cylinder petrol engines near Birmingham.

That is also where BMW will build the 3 cylinder engine for its i8 hybrid supercar.

The Germans and Japanese are not known for taking sentimental decisions about how and where to develop their business. They are in Britain because it’s one of the world’s best countries for high tech manufacturing.

The same applies to leading Indian companies as they go global.

Tata is a great example of that. Jaguar Land Rover, acquired by Tata in 2008, is now a huge British-Indian success story. Tata have invested hugely in JLR. Tata have become the biggest manufacturing employer in the UK, creating tens of thousands of jobs. And JLR luxury cars, owned by Indians and built in Britain, are now sold all over the world. My own official car, in which I travel every day, is a black Land Rover Discovery. As the British High Commissioner, I am proud to drive an Indian car.

We launched the new Jaguar model in India a few months ago, here in this garden. I did say to Mr Ratan Tata that while I was happy to continue to travel in a Land Rover, if he wanted to give me a free new Jaguar, I would be equally happy to travel in that. Strangely, he didn’t take up my generous offer. Which is why he is a successful businessman and I am not.

The UK also makes a lot of other things

It’s not just cars that we make in the UK.

There is one other myth I want to nail tonight: that the UK has ceased to be a manufacturing nation. On the contrary, we in Britain make or design many of the most high tech items in the world.

Example: the ARM microchip, designed by a company from Cambridge. If you have a mobile phone, and I have not yet met an Indian who doesn’t, your phone almost certainly contains an ARM microchip. They are in 95% of the world’s mobile phones.

Example: Rolls Royce aero engines, designed and made in the UK. A Rolls Royce powered aircraft takes off or lands somewhere in the world every 2.5 seconds.

Example: aircraft wings. When you next fly, there’s a 50% chance that the wings keeping you in the air are made in Britain: half of all the world’s commercial aircraft fly on British-made wings.

And our products go even higher than 35,000 feet. If tonight you happen to see a satellite orbiting the Earth, it may well be made in Britain. We are now a world leader in manufacturing satellites. UK products now orbit not just the Earth but also Mars, Venus and Saturn. ….and is one of the most innovative countries in the world.

We in Britain are good at thinking up new things as well as making them. The UK is one of the most innovative countries in the world. Examples – the Internet, invented by a Brit; the iPad, designed by a Brit; and the Higgs Boson, the particle which explains why the physical world works, predicted by a Brit.

Other things which the British have discovered or invented include, in no particular order: football, golf, cricket, tiddlywinks, croquet, the pencil, the telephone, SMS messaging, the light bulb, television, railways, the steam engine, the jet engine, hovercraft, penicillin, gravity, radar, longitude, vertical take-off aircraft, evolution, bungee jumping and the postage stamp. And - perhaps the most important breakthrough of all for world happiness, finally achieved in 1847 by the British company JS Fry and sons – the chocolate bar. Not a bad list for a small misty island off the coast of Europe.


So, ladies and gentlemen, if you remember one thing from this evening – apart from Jenson Button – remember this: Britain makes things. And the things that we make are wonderful.

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Published 23 October 2013