Industry urges key priorities for Government

Posted on 21 Sep 2014 by Victoria Fitzgerald

Britain’s manufacturers have set out their priorities for the next government to drive balanced growth, boost trade and investment, and deliver long term economic security.

EEF has created An Agenda for Government to 2020, a comprehensive manifesto laying out industry priorities, including five key policy areas from skills to staying in the EU.

The programme to rebalance Britain’s economy follows a YouGov poll where more than eight in ten voters called on any new Government to promote a stronger manufacturing base believing it will deliver more jobs, economic growth and prosperity.

The manifesto lays down a challenge to all three parties to set out a clear vision for the UK economy over the next Parliament to provide certainty for business and help boost investment.

EEF believes the priorities must also include a commitment to keep the UK in a reformed EU.

The research by YouGov published last week indicated that 79% of people believe protecting and building on the economic recovery must be central to all parties’ messages.

Commenting, EEF Chief Executive, Terry Scuoler, said:

“After such a traumatic period following the financial crash of 2008 we are now at a crucial stage for our economy, with confidence on the rise and a long-overdue recovery in UK business investment.

“This is delivering stronger growth, boosting job creation and enabling more companies to develop overseas markets.

“Let us not pretend, however, that we are seeing the better balanced growth we need for the long term, which still remains a long way off. Business has a crucial role to play, but government must also be a collaborative partner.

“All parties must now set out a clear vision for the UK economy, including how they will support rebalancing, strengthening the role of industry and manufacturing over the next Parliament.

“Party leaders also need to set out how they will attack the obstacles that companies of all sizes face in becoming world class.”

EEF believes the current government has made some positive progress with a generally supportive tax environment, in particular research and development and efforts to boost innovation and apprenticeships.

The focus on boosting trade through agencies such as UKTI, which has received extra funding, should also produce clear results by the end of the decade.

As a result, EEF is urging the next government to avoid change for the sake of change and let those policies which are working and, for which business is generally supportive, continuing to bed down and achieve their potential.

The next government should, however, build on current policy by focusing on the following five areas with specific recommendations on each.

  • Skills – from schools to universities, producing highly motivated, skilled young people willing and capable of entering the world of manufacturing, engineering and wider industry

Introduce ‘career aspiration’ in primary schools, a light touch approach to get young people to think about their futures and ensure all young people have access to independent, face-to-face careers advice before making  subject choices

Maintain an apprenticeship training system that is robust, long-lasting and resistant to short-term change

Drive up teaching standards by increasing the number of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) specialists in secondary schools

Make the UK’s immigration system less costly and less complicated for businesses, particularly SMEs.

  • Innovation – funding and incentivising businesses to research and develop new products, technologies and services and supporting our exporters to sell more abroad

Include funding for innovation within an expanded science and innovation ring-fence, with a commitment to increase the combined budget in real terms by the end of the next Parliament

Commit to sufficient funding for the existing network of Catapult Centres to ensure they remain cutting edge and work to encourage higher levels of engagement with SMEs

Longer-term, develop a framework for regular assessment of the breadth of science and innovation support to ensure all schemes remain well-directed and adequately funded.

Increase funding for export initiatives and overseas in-country support

  • Infrastructure – ensuring the UK is prepared and ahead of the curve in providing vital transport and digital capability as part of long-term planning

Commit to the creation of a UK Infrastructure Authority to strengthen analysis behind decisions on major infrastructure investments in the UK and support the decision making process to ensure the right plans are in place at the right time

Implement the recommendations of the Airports Commission after the next election

  • Energy and resource security – putting in place the planning, investment and technology needed to secure a competitively priced energy supply and other natural resources for the future

A review of the Carbon Price Floor with an aim to remove the tax as soon as fiscally possible. In addition, a cost reduction strategy for the support of low carbon electricity generation should be established.

An energy intensive industry decarbonisation strategy must be produced drawing heavily on the 2050 low carbon roadmaps. This should set out a realistic and cost effective pathway to decarbonisation

Establish a new policy unit, an Office of Resource Management, to embark on long-term planning and scenario exercises, economic forecasts, innovation and infrastructure assessments.

  • Staying in the EU – the national interest will be best served by keeping Britain in a reformed EU, one which is focused on trade, extending the free market and improving opportunities for growth in jobs and industry among all member states.