It’s the youth we are failing, say UK manufacturers

Posted on 17 Nov 2011

Tom Moore interviews Mike Peters, Universal Products, on the government’s relationship with manufacturers.

Wednesday saw a flurry of government growth initiatives, from the £1,500 incentive for SMEs to take on apprentices to Mark Prisk’s announcement of 10,000 mentoring volunteers. Ever the cynic, I thought – why today?

The measures that have been announced have been highly publicised by the government, MPs taking every opportunity to talk to the media, a solo eyebrow now raises high across my forehead. The announcements took a brief sting out of the grim youth unemployment figures that were also released on Wednesday by the Office for National Statistics. As the clichéd phrase goes… Coincidence? I think not.

I speak to fellow cynic Mike Peters, managing director of the pharmaceutical manufacturing company Universal Products, about both Wednesday’s announcements and the manufacturing industry’s relationship with the government.


TM: What do you make of the unemployment figures for young people hitting one million?

MP: The figures, whilst appalling, should surprise no one. In allowing our manufacturing industry to diminish it is the youth we are failing more than anyone else.

TM: What does this mean for recruiters – is this mass unemployment disabling skills among young people?

MP: I am concerned not just about the skills of young people, but the fact that we are creating a generation of people that have been brought up to expect instant gratification and rights over privileges. We are in danger of creating a lost generation of people through lack of focus and diligence.

TM: What role does manufacturing have to play in reducing this figure?

MP: Manufacturing has a key role to play. From an economic and social viewpoint young people in this country need to be in gainful employment. Every person working is not only NOT on benefits, but is paying into government’s coffers.

If they are employed they are neither disaffected nor rioting. The young rioters have been forgotten, and let’s be honest no one knew or cared about them. Young people see no hope, and no one caring. They read of politicians cheating on expenses and bankers screwing up yet still being paid millions of pounds. How can we reconcile that?

TM: Does your company take on apprentices? If so, tell us about your scheme…

MP: We believe strongly in apprenticeships and partake. However, we do not pay our apprentices ridiculously low wages. We pay them fairly for the job they do. We are looking to expand apprenticeships outside of our engineering department, into laboratories, customer service – indeed all areas of the business.

TM: There has been an announcement on apprenticeships by Vince Cable. In this he declared a £1,500 incentive fund to aid small businesses taking on an apprentice. What do you make of this?

MP: Any attempt to boost employment in youth should be well received, especially so for apprenticeships that provide real skills.

TM: Your company is too large to benefit from the incentives. Do you think that eligibility for the funds being capped at businesses with fewer than 50 employees is unfair? How do you feel about rewarding companies who have never hired an apprentice before?

MP: Why stop at small companies, and why only those who have not hired apprentices before. Surely we would be better to give a lower band of income tax to those manufacturing in Great Britain and get more people into work, off the streets and off benefits.

Two things I would like to see happening to aid UK manufacturing is lower National Insurance and lower Corporation Tax for manufacturing companies.

TM: What do you make of the government’s Work Programme? Have you seen the programme make a difference?

MP: The Work Programme, as far as I can see, is Whitehall spin and will be of negligible value.