As MPs vote to hold a general election on 12 December, what will the outcome mean for UK manufacturing? We run through party policies from manifestos past to gauge the direction of travel for industry.
I’ve been such a good manufacturer this year, treating my staff fairly, rewarding innovation and agility in trying circumstances, and ensuring company values are reflected in a sustainable, reliable product that people trust.
This year, for Christmas, I would like a vintage model airplane, music vouchers, a Hornby train set, a pack of Jawbreakers, the Tracy Island from Thunderbirds…and a general election?
Well, at least one of these has more chance of being delivered than the rest. But in what form? And what of manufacturing?
The Brexit battle lines have been drawn, the countdown has started. With few remaining weeks, industry can only speculate how friendly the election result will be towards manufacturers, and whether any manifestos that emerge are merely ghosts of elections past.
Like Rudolph, The Manufacturer attempts to guide you with a look back at some of the policies that have gone before.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my government gave to me…
In 2016, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) was disbanded and in its place the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) was created under that girl who went running through the wheat fields displeasing the farmers.
BEIS saw business, industrial strategy, science, innovation, energy and climate change brought under one department, sending out the signal to manufacturers that government was getting serious about the prosperity of our industry.
Despite this seemingly positive integration, the revolving door-style of those who should have a handle on things has meant no one has really been able to get to grips with the task, and a general election could threaten to swing the door again.
In the Tory manifesto Forward Together under Theresa May, under the five biggest challenges facing the UK, the party listed a booming economy and getting a handle on fast-changing technology as key priorities, alongside a “smooth and orderly” departure from the EU.
You be the judge of how well that turned out.
Here are some claims about manufacturing the Tories made that industry should hold them to when casting its vote this December:
“We will …
- remove barriers that hold back small firms with big potential and let them compete when government itself is the buyer
- support key industries such as aero and automotive so they can grow
- build on life sciences, digital technology and our creative industries, and help other sectors develop conditions they need to thrive
- ensure industry has access to reliable, cheap and clean power
- deliver the infrastructure – road, rail, airports and broadband – businesses need”
The Tories say relatively little about small and medium-sized enterprises, but notes they are the “wellspring of growth…valued for their contribution to every community”. It promises business rate relief and low taxation for SMEs, as well as removing “bureaucracy and regulation” that hinders development.
The Tories promise Britain the technical education it has “lacked for decades”, addressing those sectors suffering a skills shortage, while ensuring the UK develops competences needed for the future.
A promise to increase R&D investment to meet the OECD average of 2.4 per cent of GDP within ten years, with a longer-term goal of 3 per cent, adding it will “ensure we have a regulatory environment that encourages innovation”.
In a bid to beef up online security measures enabling UK businesses to operate with greater efficiency and productivity, BEIS has announced a raft of investment projects backed by industry.
The Labour Party
If Labour’s performance when Parliament convened on a Saturday 26 October for the first time since the Falklands is anything to go by, you’d be forgiven for thinking manufacturing is of paramount importance.
When the House met on 19 October to debate the PM’s Brexit deal, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for exiting the EU, Kier Starmer, came out in strong defence of industry with a 30-minute tirade about the potentially calamitous impact a No-Deal Brexit would inflict, particularly with regards to just-in-time delivery and our ability to adhere to the terms of the rules of origin.
“Management and union speak with one voice: don’t take us out of the customs union,” he said. “One major car manufacturer said to me, ‘We don’t think we would ever be able to take advantage of any new trade agreement because we could never prove 50% of our components come from the UK’.”
Under the party’s own Industrial Strategy, Labour bemoan a decline in British manufacturing in favour of the financial sector, with northern and coastal towns and cities “left behind”.
The party vows to ensure 60% of UK energy is zero-carbon by 2030, surpassing the Tories’ target by 20 years, and to meet the OECD target of 3% spent on R&D by the same date.
“We will help industry to grow…
- Skills – by creating a National Education Service for England
- Infrastructure – by investing £250bn over the next 10 years
- Supply chains – by targeting government support where there are gaps
- Trade – by negotiating a new deal with Europe that puts jobs and the economy first
- Procurement – by requiring the best standards on government contracts
- R&D – by committing extra research investment
- Energy costs & security – by capping costs and investing in new publicly-owned energy provision”
Labour’s 2019 General Election launch
Those who caught Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at Battersea Arts Centre kicking off Labour’s election campaign this week perhaps got a flavour of what the party has in store.
It felt like something of a replay from their 2017 election launch, taking aim at the party’s own hit list of “bad bosses”, including Sports Direct chief exec, Mike Ashley.
As well as taking on the corporations, Corbyn promised to “rebuild” public services and to heavily tax “big polluters”. This of course prompts questions about how the party would fund such infrastructure, how realistic cutting UK energy to zero-carbon by 2030 is, and what part industry will play in both.
He also said that if elected prime minister, he would “open negotiations with the EU about a sensible relationship with Europe”.
The Liberal Democrats
Stopping Brexit, pushing for a second referendum and remaining in the EU have become the tenets on which the Liberal Democrats have and will continue to fight, with “B***ocks to Brexit” their mantra.
Under their policy papers, however, the party encourages investment in “important” sectors, like manufacturing.
It endorses “big strides” toward a “legally-binding” zero-carbon Britain by 2050, potentially opening up “further opportunities” in manufacturing.
Aerospace, automotive and chemical sectors remain “stubbornly concentrated” and need to move toward digitisation to compete.
It wants “sector-wide manufacturing standards to facilitate durability, repairability and deconstruction rather than end disposal” and endorses upskilling workers in digital technologies through a skills strategy.
The Green Party
As of June, the Greens have their own version of an Industrial Strategy that prioritises renewable energy generation and transmission (electricity, heat and transport fuels), the localisation of transportation systems, and the transformation or retrofit of existing built environment and construction approaches.
“If we are to reduce emissions rapidly then these sectors are clearly of the highest priority,” it says. “They are fundamental underpinnings of all other productive sectors…and, if properly planned, lead to rapid growth in R&D in sustainable and socially useful technology and stimulate the demand for new skills and/or training.”
“Massive infrastructural investment”
Green industrial solutions, like the circular economy, are likely to be systemic rather than systematic, it claims, “valued qualitatively as well as quantitatively, and lead to behaviour and institutional (organisational) change alongside technological solutions”.
As with the aforementioned parties, there is little about how these policies will be implemented, but the Green Industrial Strategy will require “massive infrastructural investment”.
The Brexit Party
Nigel Farage’s stance on Brexit is a sort of funhouse mirror version of the Liberal Democrats: just get it done without a deal.
Because his party is, essentially, a vehicle in which to achieve this single-minded ambition, the party itself has no manifesto and therefore no solid policies about the manufacturing industry – yet. Perhaps that will change as we approach 12 December…
Despite holding no seats at Westminster, the Brexit Party managed to top the European Parliament elections in May.
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By Rory Butler, Staff Journalist
*Image credits to bollockstobrexit.com, parliament.uk, thebrexitparty.org