The power is ours

In his new column for TM, EEF and CEEMET CEO Terry Scuoler throws down the challenge to both government and industry to keep their eyes on the prize of a manufacturing-lead economic rebalance.

Terry Scuoler, Chief Executive of EEF
Terry Scuoler, CEO of EEF

In recent years we have experienced a welcome resurgence in support for manufacturing, especially amongst the political classes who have – rightly in our view – come to see our sector and rebalancing the economy as being a major part of the solution to our long term economic success.

They have realised that after such a traumatic economic meltdown the hollowing out of our country’s manufacturing capability – something which has taken place over decades – was even more unwise. Thankfully, despite the financial strain of a deep recession, the remainder of our industrial base has proved itself to be robust, and it is manufacturing companies in the UK that are now at the forefront of developing the solutions to tomorrow’s industrial and economic challenges.

As we approach conference season, companies across all sectors of manufacturing are growing and helping to propel the UK economy forward once again – creating value, generating and securing jobs. Many never shifted their focus away from the need to continually improve what they do by developing new products and services, investing in their employees and boosting talent in their workforce and driving forward efficiency improvements, with the much needed benefits to productivity.

Confidence is on the rise, and after a long period of caution and uncertainty, investment plans are being put into action, supporting a long-overdue recovery in the UK’s business investment performance. More companies are also looking to step confidently into new export markets.

While this picture is positive, more still needs to be done if we are to reach the target of £1 trillion worth of exports by 2020 (bit.ly/ExportTruths) and, if we are to generate the better balanced growth our economy requires.

To secure this government must continue to work with industry as a collaborative partner. First and foremost we need all parties vying for government in 2015 to set out a clear vision for the UK economy over the next Parliament in order to provide certainty for our investors and innovators. It needs to set out how they will continue to attack the obstacles that companies of all sizes face in becoming world class, and to demonstrate how it can work with international partners to achieve our common economic goals.

Just as government has a role, manufacturers can themselves do more to ensure UK industry remains on a strong growth trajectory. This must involve being bold with their plans to access new markets, ambitious in their development and acquisition of new technologies and enthusiastic in encouraging more young people to enter the sector.

At EEF, we also have a key role and that is why we will be setting out five key policy areas in our own manifesto outlining what a new government must drive forward in support of rebalancing and long term economic security. These priorities will cover skills, innovation, exports, infrastructure, energy and priorities at EU level.

Our agenda which we will be setting out at fringe meetings at the three conferences, at our own national conference in February and, beyond the general election to 2020, will set out these priorities and how industry and government can work together to build a stronger, more productive economy.