Poll dancing…

Posted on 14 Apr 2010 by The Manufacturer

Kevin Lee, MD of Menard Competition Technologies, one of the companies at the heart of the UK’s celebrated Motorsport Valley, takes a look at the upcoming election and gives his view on what is to be hoped for by a resurgent motorsport sector.

As a nation, we need to make things — this is where much of the growth in the economy will come from over the next five years. And the motorsport industry will play its role in that process, as a growing community of 4,500 SME organisations turning over approximately £6bn annually. It’s a thriving and evolving sector that, in the main, has the initiative, energy and ambition to operate without the need for the support of others.

All it desires is a level playing field, and a sense of balance and positivity from central government that will allow it to add significantly to the country’s GDP, while acting as a figurehead for the capabilities of a nation that has been at the forefront of motorsport since the thirties. I, needless to say, would hope to see the industry continue to be in that privileged position.

So, what else is needed for the industry to thrive and to continue to grow its export offering? Firstly, we would like to see increased tax breaks for start up organisations in motorsport, as well as further advantages for companies when investing in research and development projects. And those tax breaks could be going further. The ambition is for Britain to be a low carbon economy; indeed, it is something we heard a lot of in the aftermath of the Copenhagen summit.

It is therefore important that the government is making it as tempting as possible for high-end engineering businesses — including those involved in the motorsport sector — to be developing low carbon initiatives for the automotive industry and further afield. The motorsport industry is doing its part to develop high performance low carbon solutions such as electric vehicle prototypes, and this should be aided by tax breaks for those companies involved in the development and exploitation of new energies.

It is also crucial that we attract the next generation of engineers into motorsport and, indeed, the wider engineering field. As an organisation, we are actively involved in supporting the work of local education organisations and we would like to see more assistance from government into encouraging further internships for engineers with motorsport organisations. It is vital for the future of the wider engineering sector that we attract the greatest talent, rather than it being tempted away by the bright lights of more high profile career paths.

Initiatives such as the Bloodhound SSC, Britain’s world land speed record project, are important to attract tomorrow’s graduates into engineering, but we all have a role to play in terms of making sure that the most talented are looking at all the options. And government can also play its part here.

Finally, and while a point that is being made a lot at the moment, it is one that is important to the motorsport and high-end engineering arenas as it is any other. Some profitable, healthy organisations are going to the wall because of a lack of support from the clearing banks; credit lines have been pulled and innovative organisations — the very future of this country — are failing because of it. It is imperative, therefore, that the major high street banks, particularly those with significant levels of support from the government and taxpayer, need to be making sure that healthy SME’s are allowed to survive and thrive into the future.

This is not an argument for a protectionist state propping up an ailing business sector — it is simply a call for the next government to do all it can to allow a British success story to continue to shine, both here and abroad. There is welcome support from UK Trade and Industry and so many other examples where government is helping to keep the playing field level for the sector. All we are asking is that the next government, from whichever side of the house it comes, continues to help the industry to maximise its own chances.

Elections are always an uncertain time for the economy, and after the deep dip that we have all suffered and a year that has stuttered slowly into life through the snowstorms of mid January, the last thing we need is another delay on the road to recovery. However, the election is an inevitability, and manufacturing and the motorsport industry must be flexible enough to deal with whatever conclusion comes out of the May poll.

That said, it would not be wrong of the industry — one of the country’s crown jewels in so many ways — to seek a benign regime for it to operate under. And it is this sense of mere understanding from the administration that many within the motorsport industry are seeking.

Kevin Lee, MCT