Energetic debate

Posted on 25 May 2011 by The Manufacturer

UK’s “futile gestures” on carbon reduction will only result in loss of industry and an “impoverished Britain, according to bold comments at the Cranfield National Manufacturing Debate.

Cranfield University is today hosting the second if its National Manufacturing Debates which welcome academics, industry representatives and policy drivers from across the UK, and further afield, to discuss the practicalities of manufacturing in Britain.

This morning’s proceedings were kicked off by Professor Clifford Friend, deputy vice chancellor of Cranfield University and the context for the day was set by Professor Rajkumar Roy, head of the university’s engineering department. These representatives from academia were keen to stress the role and responsibility of institutions like Cranfield in supporting industry and working with them to create a coherent progression of manufacturing technology – not just in terms of products – but also processes and services.

Delegates at today’s event have also heard from Minister for Business and Enterprise, Mark Prisk, who made a brief appearance in order to confirm government support for the growth of manufacturing in the UK. Mr Prisk highlighted government progress in reforming the tax system in the UK so as to provide greater relief to entrepreneurs and innovators and also in providing more apprenticeship placements and encouraging the establishment of Group Training Associations for to provide administrative support to smaller companies looking to provide apprenticeships.

On one topic however the Minister was significantly silent. There was no mention of the UK energy environment for manufacturing nor a response to the recent outburst of debate on this subject following the most recent updates to the Carbon Budget.

Following Mr Prisk onto the podium, but unfortunately being unable to address the Minister directly since Mr Prisk had further engagements to attend, Sir Alan Rudge, chairman of the ERA Foundation, spoke forthrightly and controversially on this subject.

ERA Foundation is an organisation which works closely with industry to bridge gaps between reseaearch and the exploitation of technology in industry and Sir Alan was this morning clear in his expression to attendees at the National Manufacturing Debate that governments commitments and overall strategy for energy production and pricing in the UK are becoming a crippling barrier to this.

Sir Alan commented that: “CO2 legislation in the UK, in all its various forms, impacts heavily on energy costs,” and consequently on the attractiveness of Britain as an environment for investment in the UK. Sir Alan identified that the current Government’s strategy for relying on a move to renewable was unrealistic and that plans to move to nuclear power generation were well behind schedule.

Furthermore, Sir Alan criticised government for being overzealous in the targets it is setting for decarbonising the UK saying that its efforts are “little more than futile gesturing” when compared to rising emissions from countries such as China which will “offset such reductions in less than six years.” Sir Alan said the current trajectory would result in an “impoverished Britain” with no power to address its stark balance of trade situation.

Doing further into the detail of the prospects of the UK as an investment location, Sir Alan pointed to the fact that it is simply too easy for foreign investors to withdraw from the UK and that the country has developed a sorry state of native investment power. A stark statistic presented to attendees was that, of the 128,000 manufacturing companies now operating in the UK, only 93 are UK owned. This being the case, Sir Alan was swift to point out that creating commitment to long term, wealth creating investment in the UK for foreign companies relies heavily on establishing an attractive, stable investment climate.

Sir Alan’s comments have been received with interest and varying degrees of approval by attendees. Most agree that energy prices are a grave concern, but a representative from one major automotive manufacturer asserted that other cost should be considered. “Only about ten Euros of every car we build in Britain is accounted for by energy,” he said. “There are still many opportunities for improving the efficiency of every kilowatt we use and even further, we must remember that the greatest savings are in every we kilowatt we never use.”

Looking forward to the rest of the day’s debate attendees are due to hear from the Royal Academy of Engineering, Cambridge University and CBI, among others, before the main debate begins later this afternoon. The movement for this debate will be “Can the manufacturing sector create a significant number of long term jobs and a regional balance?”