International sock exchange

2 July 2010
“For me, socks are like sex,” said Prince George (the Blackadder version, anyway). “Tons of it about, but I never seem to get any.” I was reminded of this episode of the sitcom – which focuses on the Prince’s wild spending (£59,000 on socks) – when the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced this week it is switching the contract for socks for soldiers, sailors and pilots from its supplier of more than 80 years. There has been a bit of furore about this as the new socks are going to be made in China, rather than by Leicestershire-based firm HJ Hall. I think the interesting fact here is that the contract has actually been awarded to a British company – Cooneen Watts & Stone of County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. The MoD said the contract would provide “best value for money”. It certainly brought to mind ex-chief Treasury secretary (and he of the “no money left” note fame) Liam Byrne’s dubious claim last year that 95 per cent of the government’s £220 billion procurement spend “goes to British firms”. Buying locally (or domestically) can have huge benefits – but only if the money stays in the local economy (promoting jobs, boosting economic activity and causing growth). If the spend is just trickling down the supply chain to Mr Hu in Guangzhou, why not contract with a Chinese vendor directly and cut out the middle man?
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