As the General Election looms, do the major parties recognise the worth of manufacturing in rebalancing the economy? Victoria Fitzgerald lays out the facts.
The Conservative Party
Under the Conservative coalition we have already seen progress on the emphasis of core STEM subjects; stepped up support for apprenticeships; a turn towards exports; growth in the manufacturing sector, and a return to pre-recession levels of prosperity.
Should the Conservatives come to power, David Cameron has identified party priorities including: the deficit, jobs, taxes and education all of which have a direct influence on manufacturing.
The party aims to eradicate the deficit by 2018 and secure an overall budget surplus by 2019-20, achieved by spending cuts, not raising taxes, as well as, an income tax cut for 30 million people by 2020.
It will hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership by 2017; promises to save firms a further £10 billion in regulatory costs; deliver 3 million apprenticeships and open more University Technical Colleges; expand start-up loans, and support the next stage of finance with the Help to Grow programme targeting SMEs.
Matthew Hancock spoke to TM on a range of issues that the Conservatives believe will bolster manufacturing including energy intensive industries; apprenticeships; exports; infrastructure, and Europe.
He said: “We want to see renewable energy that’s lower cost and cost competitive leading to a lower burden.” In regards to apprenticeships: “I personally brought in Trailblazer apprenticeships”, which aims to provide young people with the skills employers want by letting employers design their apprenticeships.
He adds: “Any employer that wants to be involved…should get in contact so we can make sure the standards work for all.”
“We need to strengthen UKTI further, exporting has been tough to the Eurozone, repeated recession over the past few years, but there’s big and exciting new markets on the horizon. We maintain our goal of a trillion pounds worth of exports by 2020, half of exports from the manufacturing sector.
“Infrastructure needs continued improvement. We’ve seen £45bn investment in energy in the last five years, we need a similar amount over the next five years. “Our aim is to make the whole of Europe work better and renegotiate our relationship so we can then have a Europe that works better for everybody.”
The Labour Party
The Labour party intends to push for a reform of the EU; enforce a 5% pay cut for every government minister; guarantee a job for under 25s unemployed for over a year and adults unemployed for more than two years; ensure as many young people to start an apprenticeship as currently go to university by 2025; create a million new high technology green jobs by 2025, and ban “exploitative” zero hour contracts.
Iain Wright MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Industry, told TM: “Our membership of the EU means access to product markets in growing economies…. Labour will secure Britain’s place in a reformed EU, and support businesses to export through better access to finance, improving skills and supported access to markets.
“We will cut and freeze business rates for small business properties, commit to the most competitive Corporation Tax regime in the G7. We will strengthen Local Enterprise Partnerships, and devolve £30 billion of funding to city and county regions.
“We will deliver… gold standard vocational qualifications at 18 and new technical degrees. We will give employers more control over the funding and design of apprenticeships.
“To help firms being held back by rising utility costs, Labour will freeze energy bills until 2017, saving 2.4 million businesses £1.5 billion in total. We will make Britain a world leader in low carbon technology and create one million new green jobs by setting a legal target to decarbonise our electricity sector by 2030.
“Labour will implement a long-term innovation strategy in science and research to help create new products and improve the UK’s record of underinvestment in Research & Development, and explore ways to encourage further collaboration between universities and businesses.”
The Liberal Democrats
Closely associated with a host of broken promises, including campaigning against the “Tory VAT Bombshell” to later vote to increase VAT to 20%, as well as promising and failing to provide TM with a statement, the Lib Dems are running with a “stable, centre-ground approach”.
The party maintains having plugged funds into manufacturing with £5.5bn invested in science and manufacturing, as well as the creation of 1.8 million apprenticeships.
In their pre-manifesto the Lib Dems said they would “invest to make the UK a world leader in low carbon cars, energy efficiency and hi-tech manufacturing, and continue the Regional Growth Fund to back growing businesses.”
The party has invested in a number of green ventures including £2,273m in The Pen-Y-Cymoedd onshore wind farm in South Wales, which the party estimates will create up to 4,124 jobs.
However, should the party prevail it promises an extra £1 an hour for the lowest paid apprentices, and the creation of a million more jobs.
The Lib Dems are also backing small businesses with Nick Clegg calling them “the lifeblood of our economy – the engine that helps drive” UK growth, and is supporting the British Business Bank.
It promises to extend the Funding for Lending Scheme to reduce the cost of lending to SMEs, plans to build on the success of the Regional Growth Fund; and aims to double the number of employers with Apprentices in the next Parliament.
The Green Party
Should the Green Party defy the odds and come to power its manifesto promises to end austerity; create a new wealth tax on the top 1%; close tax loopholes; increase the minimum wage to reach a living wage of £10 an hour by 2020; phase out fossil-fuel based energy generation and nuclear power, and invest in a public programme of renewable generation, flood defences and building insulation.
The party told TM it didn’t “have the capacity to respond” to our “questions at the moment”, which was disappointing considering Green Party leader Natalie Bennett’s bungle on LBC radio earlier this year.
The Greens intend to raise the school starting age to six if parents want it; scrap the National Curriculum; allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in all UK elections; scrap university tuition fees; organise a referendum on Britain’s EU membership; make people earning more than £100,000 a year pay 50% income tax; introduce a wealth tax of 1% to 2% on people worth £3 million or more; renationalise the railways and energy companies, and Commit Britain to a “zero carbon” future.