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A Front Row in History

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Winifred Robinson | 15:38 PM, Wednesday, 7 July 2010

chryslerhub.jpgI don't know who was first to say it - perhaps you do - but work in journalism provides you with a front row in history.
I certainly had some experience of that, reporting for newspapers, radio and television. I've covered riots in Birmingham and London, the Omagh bombing, the trial of the boys who killed James Bulger.

This kind of work can be fascinating of course, also deeply disturbing. Sometimes though you wonder if it isn't better to spend a working life shaping events, rather than observing and recording them - front row or not. You can also feel like you know a bit about a lot of subjects but not an awful lot about anything very much. That's not to say the work isn't interesting - of course it is.

So it's always satisfying when we can tell an expert something he or she didn't already know. We did this on Wednesday with a report on a shortage of spare parts for cars. Professor Garel Rhys of Cardiff Business School, an expert on the industry, told us that the You and Yours team had provided the first examples he's heard of people in the UK left waiting for car parts for weeks and months. He said the Ford Motor Company in the USA had predicted this would happen at the time of the emergency bail out of its rivals General Motors and Chrysler in 2008/9. Prof. Rhys explained how car makers have contracted out the parts business to small, specialist companies. Sometimes a handful of workers can be supplying parts for tens of thousands of cars. On top of that, car companies are basing themselves on the Japanese who attribute their success to systems that strip out waste. As a result, they carry not stock by operate a 'just in time' approach instead, ordering the part you need from a supplier, only as you need it, and not a moment before. What's happened is that although the big car makers have ridden out the recession which saw sales fall by 30% worldwide their suppliers had a tougher time of it with 300 companies going to the wall. Although this is a small proportion of the 17,000 worldwide, it matters a lot when the missing link in the supply chain makes the bit you need.

We heard about it from our listeners - Ryan Weaves and Rosie Sedgwick who'd been left waiting months for parts. Several more of you emailed while the item was on air. According to Prof. Rhys, the manufacturers have no choice but to find other suppliers and this can take investment and time. So people are being left waiting.

Perhaps we created a footnote in the history of the automotive industry with Prof. Rhys in the front row. It's good to turn the tables from time to time.

Winifred Robinson presents You and Yours on BBC Radio 4

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