The Manufacturer talks to Mark Prisk about the gap in communication between industry and government and the poor quality of science in UK schools following the UK Manufacturing Summit last week.
TM: What did you take away from meeting with manufacturers on how government can increase the level of support?
Mark Prisk: The key actions I will take from this are to broaden the involvement of other government departments, accelerate the uptake of apprenticeships and boost exports.
Apprenticeships, although not a new idea, work. Government needs to help increase the numbers of apprentices. To do this we need to widen the communication and involve more people, people who don’t realise what we are doing in terms of apprenticeship initiatives.
With the squeeze on credit over the last year or so, the Chancellor [George Osborne] announced a £20bn national loan guarantee scheme which will start on 31 March, with details arrive soon.
There are quite a few things where the relationship between industry and government needs to improve, the feedback on how we can build up small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to export more was very useful. I am particularly pleased by the number of manufacturers exporting, and attempting to further export. Looking at access to finance is the best a good route forward.
TM: In a recent survey, over half of manufacturers didn’t realise that they were eligible for government grants when they were. Communication is a major problem, what exactly will you do?
MP: I wouldn’t like to see businesses views their future by what grant they can get from government. Can we communicate better? Yes. We need to use the trade bodies more effectively.
A lot of people assume grants are not available because we have been cutting government spending, when they are. We need to ensure that the information is disseminated more effectively.
TM: There are 340 MPs yet to nominate a manufacturer for the Made by Britain Challenge. Do you think that this response matches up with what you and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are saying about manufacturing?
MP: In some areas MPs may not have a strong connection with local manufacturers. I hope this figure improves.
TM: Vince Cable has declared himself a champion of manufacturing after concerns about the devaluing of engineering in schools. Does manufacturing need protecting from Michael Gove’s education reforms?
MP: Vince Cable has banged the drum for manufacturing and I support it. I support his letter to the Minister for Education, Michael Gove, as industry has raised the issue and was right to raise it. That is why we put our case to Michael [Gove], who is having to simply an overly complex curriculum with thousands of qualifications, some of which are not of great value.
TM: Manufacturers commented at the summit that science needs to improve in schools, do you agree with that?
MP: Budget wise we are not able to match the sort of facilities available elsewhere, but nevertheless, there is a huge gap between the best and the worst schools. There is a substantial budget for school building. The problem is that science is so varied that it is difficult to cover the angles.
TM: What can manufacturing do for the UK economy?
MP: We have a huge number of growing economies around the world that value British brands, so strengthening manufacturing is good for growing the economy and creating jobs. It is a very important part of making the economy more balanced and create the wealth we need.
TM: With companies struggling to make the investments they need, is there going to be any policy changes on capital allowances?
MP: We have already doubled the capital asset regime from four to eight years. We are keeping a close eye on the challenges of how to reform corporation tax and how businesses make long term investments.
TM: Not in this budget then?
MP: If I’ve learned one thing in life it is to not predict the budget!