University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Financial History Seminar > Blissfully Ignorant: The Rôle of State Financial and Managerial Assistance in the Decline of the British Shipbuilding Industry, 1945-1980

Blissfully Ignorant: The Rôle of State Financial and Managerial Assistance in the Decline of the British Shipbuilding Industry, 1945-1980

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The economic history of British shipbuilding after 1945 has tendency to lament and eulogise a lost industry, attributing blame along the way to whatever institution is considered guilty for the crime of allowing so many shipyards to close. This paper, however, will present a factual and objective picture of the relative and absolute decline of British shipbuilding and by utilising contemporary financial and economic data will demonstrate that the demise of the industry was not caused by foreign competition, but rather by the parochial world view of management, labour and government that limited the ability of shipbuilding companies in the United Kingdom to take advantage of market conditions in the 1960s and 70s.

Indeed, this paper will conclusively demonstrate that shipbuilding in the United Kingdom actually declined when the demand for newly constructed vessels was rising exponentially and demand was outstripping supply. It will also demonstrate that during the 1960s the demand for vessels was heavily influenced by the demand for crude oil in industrialised and industrialising nations and as a result large crude oil carriers, the so called ‘supertankers’, were financed by speculative arrangements set up by merchant banks in the City of London. Finally, this paper will show that these economic trends were highly apparent, not only in their genesis during the late 1950s but also during the entire 1960s and early 1970s and were systematically ignored, underrated or indeed berated by decision makers involved in the British shipbuilding industry. In short, this paper is not about lamentation, nor is it a eulogy, it is an accurate and factual critique of the decisions made in the 1960s that condemned shipbuilding in the United Kingdom to an early grave at a time when it should have been thriving in favourable market conditions.

This talk is part of the Financial History Seminar series.

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