Blog: Simon WarburtonSweden looks to reinforce UK ties

Simon Warburton | 8 October 2013

I've often believed Swedes and the Brits to be of fairly similar ilk - hewn from the same northern granite and all that - a thought reinforced again this afternoon as I was changing some Sterling at the airport for my trip to the Scandinavian Annual Suppliers (FKG) Forum in Gothenburg.

Completely on automatic I asked for ubiquitous Euros only to realise with a start, that of course, Sweden has resolutely stuck to its beloved Krona just as the UK has held out for its historic pound. Some instant, nifty footwork from the teller enabled a Euro/Krona transaction and I was on my way.

That singularity of identity - which the UK also shows in bucketloads when it comes to Europe and which extends from football to politics - replete with a hefty dose of Scandi State liberalism mind - has nonetheless led to the FKG expressing great admiration for the UK approach to manufacturing and in particular the government/industry powerhouse that is the Automotive Council.

To that end, the UK will be represented at this week's conference by Trade & Investment technology specialist, John Kell and the FKG is looking hard across the North Sea to see how the British have seemingly bucked the Europe-wide gloomy trend during the downturn and posted some remarkable performances. 

As such, this year's FKG Forum theme is "New Market Opportunities" and given the imminent reboot of Saab under the auspices of National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS), coupled with better news from Volvo, the conference will look at ways to lever Scandinavian suppliers' clout in a Europe recovering achingly slowly from this grim recession.

I transited across the North Sea today via Amsterdam - an airport of staggering size and complexity - and which even at 15:00 was a maelstrom of humanity striving to get from A to B.

My connection to Sweden was very much on the tight side and as I weaved through Schiphol, I pondered, not for the first time, just why people get on travelators, presumably to move more quickly, only to grind to a complete halt, two abreast.

One such pair was calmly drinking one of those expensive, fancy dan coffee concoctions, breezily chewing the fat about, well, who knows, but rapidly moved across as they saw me bearing down at a rate of knots.

It should be an interesting day tomorrow, with a train trip north in the morning from Gothenburg to see the reinvigorated Saab in its Trollhatten citadel and whose canny owners have made very sure that iconic name and brand remain very much to the fore. I'll also be curious to see if there's a better mood of optimism in the town, given the understandably downbeat assessment last time I was there, following Saab's traumas.

It's a meeting with Volvo back in Gothenburg after that before the FKG dinner tomorrow night and the conference proper on Thursday.

FKG managing director, Fredrik Sidahl, recently told me there was "light in the tunnel" for his members, echoing a cautious mood of restrained optimism prevalent across northern Europe, while it seems the Swedish government has cottoned on to its UK counterparts and is looking at research programmes and tax relief as just some of the ways to support the auto sector.

I might need some of that tax relief myself looking at my newly converted Krone - I remember staring agog at various taxi meters and food receipts last time - Sweden is one pricey country.

But despite that determination to remain staunchly Swedish I mentioned before, the country still appears to come under some Brussels influence. I needed to show my passport at Amsterdam, but not on arrival here at Gothenburg airport, from where I'm filing this waiting for my bus to the city centre. Does Sweden adhere to the Schengen agreement? I asked at the airport, but couldn't find someone who knew.

To continue the UK-Sweden connection, I was surprised to see one of my football team, Southampton's, old stalwarts, Anders Svensson, still turning out for for his country recently.

He played for ages for us, so as a symbol of longevity, he's doing pretty well, just as perhaps, the Swedish auto manufacturers and suppliers seem to be after a tough old time.



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