Government support has to be sustained

Posted on 8 Jul 2013

Government support for manufacturing keeps growing and the industry has ambitious targets for 2020, but the investment must be sustained for the industry to keep growing, says Marc Sobbohi.

There’s a lot of ambition floating around in UK manufacturing, especially as the Government looks to utilise the industry in driving economic recovery. The overarching aim is to get manufacturing to make up 20% of British GDP by 2020, up 10% from current the current level.

However is this ambition readily justified? Will the fairly recent gaze on the UK manufacturing soon move elsewhere and leave the industry to evolve on its own?

Having spoken to science minister David Willetts and Bloodhound product sponsorship lead Conor La Grue at the opening of the new Bloodhound Technical Centre, you would be forgiven for thinking state support for the industry had never wavered.

Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, announced new funding for science.
Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts

Mr Willetts said he sees “very large manufacturing” returning to the UK. We should all hope this is true, and increasing demand in exports will help facilitate reshoring efforts.

However, major concerns remain as to having enough people with the right science and engineering skills, as well as inspiring young people to become engineers.

This is something the science and univerisities minister seems to doubt.

“There was this pessimistic fear that manufacturing was a declining sector, so there wouldn’t be jobs but we’re proving the opposite is the case.”Universities and Science Minister David Willets

That surely belies the troubles UK manufacturing has faced and the time it has taken to support the industry. Government support is at a high, though it has been a gradual process for the state to see manufacturing as a viable method for growth.

The industry was hit hard at the start of the financial crisis and looked more vulnerable than ever when output fell 15%, a level not seen since the 1930s. Admittedly big hitters like Germany and Japan suffered even bigger drops.

At that time the Germans made a determined effort to drive production back up, and they duly did. Britain too saw the need to promote manufacturing and gradually began to realise the benefits the sector could offer.

Yet we still have to play catch up, especially with creating and filling jobs. The reality is there has been an ever-increasing skills gap in engineering as brighter lights and bigger paid jobs attract the best of Britian’s scientific minds.

Now, finally, we’re looking to bring those skilled workers back to the sector as well as inspire the engineers of the future.

Events like the IET Skills Shortage Summit show the need to close the obvious skills gap and reassuringly demonstrate that the industry is taking the problem seriously. Bringing together politicians, academics, industry leaders and the apprentices themselves is key.

No wonder the Prime Minister has sought to rectify the lack of qualified engineers in the UK. His promise to have 100,000 qualified engineers in the UK by 2018 is a positive start to bringing skills back to the sector. However it was a little worrying he couldn’t take time to explain the plans and give a positive outlook when making the ‘announcement’ last week.

Despite this it can’t be said the Government is not fully behind manufacturing at the moment. £1m investment for Bloodhound on engineering and science education, supporting a global innovation centre from Element Six and marked investment on infrastructure, add concrete backing to the verbiage.

High Speed Two will link London to Birmingham and the North with 225mph trains

The £100bn of investment announced by Danny Alexander shows a shift in attitude and signals a big vote of confidence in UK manufacturing and construction.

The investment will go to places like the rail, road and energy sectors which will boost manufacturing and mean much more demand for the industry.

Further to this, the Government announced strike prices for renewables earlier than expected as they push to increase investment in the renewable energy sector.

Aiming to make renewables 30% of the energy mix by 2013 shows an attempt to cut energy costs and save money. There are however still concerns for energy sources in non-renewables, particularly nuclear.

The Government is clearly ready to invest big in bringing manufacturing back to British shores and are putting tremendous faith in the industry to drive economic recovery.

The global financial crisis turned the Government’s head to manufacturing and now the foundations have been set. One thing is certain, the support needs to be sustained and the investment continued if we wish to see the kind of results to match the lofty targets set.