On Thursday 10 June Mark Prisk, Minister for Business and Enterprise, spoke to the manufacturing industry press at MACH 2010 about coalition plans to support UK industry. TM's Jane Gray attended the session.
On issues of overall government strategy for manufacturing Prisk was asked if he planned for any continuity with the strategy of the previous government and whether the coalition would be publishing a new strategy of their own. The business secretary responded: “We do want to have a clear plan. I am slightly wary of strategies without leadership, the last government had three manufacturing plans but they still lost more manufacturing jobs than we have seen to be the case in previous recessions. The key thing is to focus on issues that matter. The reason why I am here [at MACH] is to listen out for the things that businesses want. This is a long term sense of direction around skills, investment and also making sure that they get the support they are after for things like exports.
So – we are putting together a clear plan – both to rebalance the economy away from an over dependence on financial services, but also to make sure that we are clearing away some of the things that have stopped business that are here from growing in the future. We will set out the details in the next few months.”
Expanding on the issue of skills and attracting young people into industry Priisk referenced the outreach work of the EPSRC as a great example of putting industry out in the open and in touch with schools and colleges. He also pointed to the Bloodhound project, represented at MACH 2010, saying that it “excited interest”. Prisk continued “We’ve been looking very carefully at some of the great initiatives that are out there and see whether we need to do something additional or whether actually we just need to recognise that they are working well and simply help them rather than cutting the system up with new initiatives.”
Prisk was also questioned on plans to stand by investment pledges to companies like Sheffield Forgemasters who were promised a £80m loan by the previous government to support their provision to the burgeoning nuclear industry and stimulate the supply chain of SMEs that feed into the north east based steel manufacturer. Prisk replied “The incoming management for any business knows that they’ve got to do some due diligence on what they’ve inherited. What we are doing is looking back at all the major projects that were signed up in the last six months. We are going through them carefully – if they meet our principles about value for money then clearly they will progress. You will have seen our announcement yesterday about our investment in Sunderland with Nissan. That’s a good example.
Let’s just say politely that there were some interesting cases that the noble Lord Mandelson signed off just before the election. But we are going through each on merit. Asking is this value for money and do they meet our priorities.
In the long term we have argued that it is important that government supports the capabilities of enterprise and industry rather than doling out big vats of money here there and everywhere and that’s the feeling that I’ve been getting off the shop floor here [at MACH]. People feel very strongly that they want a sense of direction about the market they are working in rather than little pots of money divvied up a thousand different ways. “
Wrapping the press briefing up Prisk addressed an issue close to the hearts of many manufacturers at the UKs largest machine tooling event as he spoke on coalition policy with regards to tax incentives for capital investment. “We are coming up to a budget on the twenty-second of June – we are looking carefully at making sure that changes to the tax, which we want to make simpler and more predictable, also recognise the particular capital needs of the manufacturer. Certainly the message that I’ve got from many of the businesses here, whether excellent small businesses or multi nationals, is that they want a degree of consistency about the tax regime. On the twenty-second of June the Chancellor will set out our changes to the corporation tax system which will incorporate our approach to how we make sure that capital investment is recognised.”
Mr. Prisk was not the only member of the new government to visit MACH. Vince Cable also attended for the afternoon of 10 June and although he did not hold a formal question and answer session he visited several of the exhibitor stand s to meet with industry representatives.