I have the longest job title in government: Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General. It’s the first bit that means anything nowadays but it was the last part that used to be useful. A couple of hundred years ago the paymaster general was responsible for the payroll of the forces – which provided many an opportunity to skim a little off for one’s own. Things were not so well policed back then, which meant that this was one of the posts most coveted by those that had an eye to making politics pay.
My predecessors made themselves obscenely rich in this position, graft masquerading as public service. Had I been the incumbent then, I would certainly have been able to afford one of Sean McMillan’s super yachts, which he designs and manufactures at the bottom of the Island Site. Sadly for me but happily for the taxpayer, things are very different now, so whilst I didn’t get a yacht on Wednesday, I did get to open a yacht factory.
I suspect that it will be a memory the value of which would outlast the sugar-high of an impulse maritime purchase – because this is a very special company made up of very special people. Sean started the business in a cowshed near Benhall over twenty years ago, with not a penny to put towards the punt that he had made. Slowly but very surely he has built Spirit into the best sailing yacht builder in the world. That is not an idle boast: there is no other boat builder turning out such beautiful, fast and coveted sailing yachts on the face of the planet. Nor so expensive. These are, as Sean is happy to tell you, grown-up toys – and I would add grown-up toys for very wealthy people with understated good taste.
I’ve written about Spirit before in this column, complaining that they were hardly known in a town that should be bursting with pride to be home to this remarkable company. There should be no excuse now, for Spirit are doing so well that they have had to double the size of their accommodation, adding a new shed adjacent to their current home. It is not by itself spectacular, but the work going on inside certainly is. These world-class boats are being turned out by a remarkable team of master craftsmen, many of whom are Suffolk born and bred. With an order book that stretches several years ahead, we can be sure that this team will only grow, providing highly skilled jobs to the best people in global yacht building.
The thrill of opening the new building is not so much about the wonders being created within, however, but what this company represents. It is in every respect the perfect business: the creation of one brave man, risking everything to realise a vision. Through good times and bad, by being prudent and courageous in equal measure, the company has grown and established itself around the world. It now exports almost everything it makes, making a sizeable dent in our country’s appalling trade deficit. If we had a few more businesses like Sean McMillan’s Spirit Yachts, we would have no trade imbalance and our country would be the more prosperous for it.
This was a special moment then: to open the extension of a business that represents all that is good in entrepreneurship and enterprise. The boats are beautiful but in a sense incidental: it is Sean McMillan’s Spirit that is the most impressive thing to come out of these industrial buildings.
May I wish you all a very, very happy and peaceful Christmas.