In recent weeks there has been a growing debate on the inherent lack of an industrial and manufacturing policy in the UK. On Tuesday the EEF (the main engineering and manufacturing employers federation) will be holding a Manufacturing Conference in London. Vince Cable and Ed Miliband will address the EEF Conference among many others. I will be there to put the case for Unite’s manufacturing strategy – if I get the chance!
Two weeks ago the Government held a similar event in Bristol and I was able to tackle Nick Clegg on the Government’s lack of an industrial strategy – he liked the stuff I said about about Germany (see below) but didn’t respond to much else!
I have blogged on this site on the Bristol summit and on Left Foot Forward (with the TUC’s Tim Page) about the lack of a manufacturing policy and what needs to be done. Unite’s 20020 Vision Strategy For Manufacturing sets out what Unite believes we need to do to bring about a rebalancing of the economy and is gaining credence – many employers and employers federations have said they agree with much of the document.
TUC’s ‘German Lessons’ document which was developed in conjunction with Unite and IG Mettal in Germany sets out why Germany is more competitive and productive than the UK and what needs to be done – is also sparking considerable interest.
Last week a debate took place in the pages of the Financial Times based on the report by Sir Anthony Bamford into the problems of UK manufacturing. A letter setting out Unite’s response to Sir Anthony’s report was printed in the FT as follows:
Letter to FT in response to article ‘PM urged to hire manufacturing tsar’
page 4, National News section – Monday 27 February 2012.
Sir, Your article concerning the report from Sir Anthony Bamford, asking for a manufacturing tsar and offering a nine point plan to support the role of manufacturing in the UK raises the serious issue of government investment in UK manufacturing. While generally welcoming the points and suggestions Sir Anthony has made Unite would say that what is really needed to strategically support and grow manufacturing in the UK is a Minister for manufacturing and preferably one with Cabinet responsibility, in this way David Cameron would show that he takes the manufacturing sector seriously.
Unite believes the nine points mentioned in the article do not go nearly far enough and would point to the 2020 Vision manufacturing document produced by Unite outlining ten pillars for a manufacturing strategy. These include – amongst others – a range of policies to foster growth, secure investment and create and retain manufacturing jobs in the UK. Unite believes it is not enough for government to fiddle around the margins.
Reducing workers employment rights, in the name of flexibility, is not a growth policy. Nor are rehashed youth employment schemes and 1980’s style enterprise zones.
This government has continually paid lip service to using manufacturing to re-balance the economy and while Sir Anthony refers to Germany as ‘a powerful example to the UK of what was possible in production industries’ this statement needs to be explored in the context of why that is the case, remembering that Germany has a long term manufacturing strategy, the government invests significantly in manufacturing to produce economic growth, employees are involved in the decision making process and the procurement process in Germany is used to support manufacturing industries. Unite would recommend Sir Anthony and David Cameron read the TUC’s recent policy paper, ‘German Lessons’ which gives a clear policy direction for UK manufacturing.’
Unite Assistant General Secretary
The trade magazine Print Week picked up on the report and printed the views of Unite and the print employers federation the BPIF.
Today, March 4th The Observer carries a half page editorial which is well worth reading as it makes many of the points Unite have been hammering home recently (with the exception of the need for the Government to recognise attacking workers employment rights, the rehashing 1980s ideas such as youth opportunity schemes and short term Enterprize Zones.)
The way to re-balance our economy is to have a robust, interventionist policy that defends UK manufacturing, that takes long term decisions; invests in UK manufacturing via a strategic investment bank; invests in skills and takes a leaf out of the German experience – work with, inform and consult with your workforce rather than attacking them.
Is the Government listening? Do they understand what manufacturers and the workforce are saying? So far they haven’t and time is running out.