EEF National Manufacturing Conference – morning wrap

Posted on 6 Mar 2012 by The Manufacturer

Opposition leader Ed Miliband and BAE Systems chair Dick Olver kick-start the debate at EEF’s first National Manufacturing Conference, while exports workshop exposes SMEs' frustration with advice.

EEF’s first National Manufacturing Conference opened this morning with over 400 delegates in attendance.

Labour leader Ed Miliband took the first keynote session, following an opening vote of thanks from EEF CEO Terry Scuoler.

In his welcoming notes Scuoler called on delegates to challenge the line-up of key policy makers due to speak at today’s manufacturing event, on their intentions to support the industry. In response, Miliband was faced with keen questions on Labour approaches to skills development, subsidies for developing markets and the reality of his long term vision for manufacturing in the UK.

During his keynote Mr Miliband assured attendees of his commitment to realising greater longtermism in industrial strategy. He also and announced new research with Sir George Cox into how to promote industrial strategy and corporate governance with a long term view of growth and wealth creation in the UK.

Despite this however, Mr Miliband dismissed a reference to a “2050 vision” for manufacturing as “a long way off.”

For a more detailed report of Ed Miliband’s speech at EEF’s National Manufacturing Conference click here.

Miliband was followed on stage by Dick Olver, chairman of BAE Systems.

Mr Olver argued a strong case for the importance of UK manufacturing to national economic recovery saying: “With due respect to the UK’s world class retail industry, we will not recover by opening new shops.” Instead he indentified a need for “blistering export performance”.

Defining the potential of UK manufacturing to achieve economic recovery for the UK in a shorter timeframe than other industries Mr Olver pin pointed the high average productivity of the sector. Singling out BAE Systems alone he said that the company’s productivity was 85% higher than the national average – but only 34% higher than the average productivity in other UK manufacturing organisations.

The key underlying challenge to starting economic rebalance and manufacturing growth was highlighted by Olver as being “the role and status of engineering in the UK.”

See TM’s forthcoming April issue for a special feature on the status of the term ‘engineer’ in the UK.

Following these keynote sessions a number of breakout workshops took place focusing on access to alternative or non-bank finance for growth, exports and global competitiveness and innovation strategy.

The export session, hosted by UKTI was oversubscribed and included contributions from metrology and medical devices manufacturer Renishaw, RBS and UK Export Finance. The workshop chairman was Paul Calver, global value chains specialist at UKTI.

Questions during the panel session for this workshop raised issues around how to recruit suitable staff to support fledgling export operations, where to look for professional indemnity advice and how to tackle counterfeit.

Questions to the panel were sometimes challenging with representatives from SME companies expressing a particular feeling of disenfranchisement. Andrea Rodney, director of small engineering firm Hone-All Precision, related specific frustrations with getting advice for her company on how to establish exports to Israel. While acknowledging good news stories for larger enterprises using UKTIs services she cited experience of unclear advice and difficult to navigate websites.

Indicating a general feeling of confidence across manufacturing firms of all sizes however, all delegates attending this export workshop said that they have some export operations in existence and are looking to expand this side of the business.

Renishaw representative, Rhydian Pountney, revealed that his organisation now gains 95% of its annual profits from exports.

Follow @themanufacturer on twitter to hear more commentary from the afternoon sessions at the EEF National Manufacturing Conference