Plant & Works Engineering
Manufacturing success underpins UK economy
Published:  10 May, 2008

The Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Alan Duncan, speaking at the MACH 2008 Exhibition in Birmingham last month paid tribute to the resilience of the manufacturing sector despite the tremors across the wider economy.

He said: "Politicians need to change their whole approach to engineering based manufacturing they should stop talking it down, this industry is a great British success story which underpins the economy.

“Manufacturing should not be seen as dirty smoke stack industry; it has transformed itself into leading edge high tech, value added success…It will only continue to grow if people leaving school see engineering based manufacturing as a valued long-term career. Politicians, schools, universities and the companies themselves all have a responsibility to attract the necessary talent into manufacturing so as to keep the UK's prominence in the sector. Manufacturing is a vital part of a balanced economy. We cannot live by services and financial sector alone.”

Manufacturing, he said, has changed dramatically in the last decade. It"s no longer a dirty industry or a dirty word: “Out go the nostalgic image of smoke stacks, sprawling factories and long production lines; in will come the robots, lasers, and highly skilled labour of modern plants.”

Duncan was also scathing of the Government: “But it’s as if the Government haven’t caught on to this yet. We’re currently in the desperate situation where companies are not only competing against themselves but also against the tough environment created by the

Government; not succeeding because of the Government but actually despite it.”

He discussed the increasingly globalised, and competitive, environment, which he said presented a huge challenge to Britain - asking how under these conditions, do we retain, support and actively enhance our British manufacturing base?

Duncan stated the Government has tried but failed to answer this question: “It grappled with the issue in its Manufacturing Strategy published back in 2002. The then-Secretary of State, Pat Hewitt, said at that time: 'manufacturing matters’. Not according to a forthright (anonymous) executive at Rolls Royce, who was quoted in the Financial Times last autumn when the company established a new test centre near Düsseldorf instead of Derby: ‘The Germans,’ he said, ‘value manufacturing. There is better productivity and they have a better education system. Government has chosen not to be competitive. Britain has caused this industry to export its capabilities’.”

Duncan warned: “The fact is that many businesses, not just our flagship automobile firm, are now looking at the UK with a wary eye. Our skills are thought to be insufficient; our entrepreneurial climate has been damaged by overregulation; our competitiveness has been hampered by one of the most complex tax systems in the world; our method of attracting inward investment is fragmented; and our main vehicle for export promotion is


“If we don’t have a Department for Business that stands up for British business, then my fear is that the forces of globalised competition will leave many of our small and large companies behind. In its current mutation, DBERR threatens to do just that.”

Duncan was keen to highlight the Conservatives’ belief that the manufacturing sector has a very strong future: “This has nothing to do with being overly optimistic – it’s to do with quiet and logical analysis. Look at how manufacturing companies in this country

have adapted in the last ten years – and look at the potential that lies in

the future.”

He gave the example that in the next two decades, the UK as a whole will be adapting to the major changes taking place in the field of energy and the environment. UK companies, who have particular experience in the products providing low-carbon energy and energy efficiency, as well as our historical ties with the motor industry, will be particularly well-placed to harvest the rewards.

He stressed that the Government needs to act now if we’re to prevent the erosion of the UK’s manufacturing base. Duncan concluded: “It’s time for politicians of all parties to start paying more attention to manufacturing: to a sector with a famous past and a glorious future. As a first step, I will be writing to all my Parliamentary colleagues in the Conservative Party to impress upon them the importance of manufacturing and to encourage them to visit manufacturing firms in their constituency, so that we’re all listening to what you have to say.”