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Government strategy `reaffirms commitment` to UK manufacturing
Published:  09 September, 2008

The Government has announced a new strategy to help the UK`s manufacturing sector take advantage of changing global trends. Called New Challenges, New Opportunities, the strategy* brings together almost £150m of medium-term support for UK manufacturing, and sets out Government`s view of what it believes the sector needs for long-term success, including: support for skills; seizing the opportunities of the low-carbon economy; realising overseas opportunities; and improving the perception of manufacturing.

The Government says it is committed to doing all it can to help manufacturers to get through these "demanding times", adding that "there is reason to be confident". Manufacturing, it says, "is still very much a UK success story, and the unsung hero of the UK`s economy".

The Government adds that its new strategy, developed in partnership with industry, reaffirms its commitment to maintaining the manufacturing sector as a key part of a mixed and balanced UK economy.

"Manufacturing is central to the success of the UK economy," comments business secretary, John Hutton, "and it is vital that the sector has the right foundations to endure the current economic slowdown, and emerge stronger and fitter than ever.

"We are the world`s sixth largest manufacturer – the industry accounts for over half our exports, contributes £150bn to the economy and around three million jobs," he points out. "But we need to recognise that the global landscape is changing so we can help UK manufacturers stay ahead of the game.

"For many years the industry`s success has suffered from a lack of public recognition, and it is time we redressed this balance," Hutton continues. "We must attract more talented young people – the lifeblood of future success – into the industry and ensure that this talent is nurtured and developed."

John Denham

Hutton’s colleague, skills secretary John Denham (above), adds that: "We want to support innovation in UK manufacturing by maintaining a world-class research and development infrastructure, through intelligent use of Government procurement and regulation to stimulate markets and the growth of innovative business, and to build world-class skills.

"We want businesses to be able to nurture and develop the talent of their people, so we will make it easier for manufacturing employers to access skills support and extend the number of high-quality apprenticeships available by supporting firms in training additional apprentices.

"Building on the successes of our innovation strategy, we`ll continue to drive innovation in high-value manufacturing, with the Technology Strategy Board investing an additional £24m in r&d to help British manufacturers not only maintain but increase their technological and innovative edge over global competitors," Denham declares.

A central plank of the Government’s plans is a low-carbon industrial strategy, to be announced next year, that will address the challenges faced by manufacturers trying to reduce their carbon footprints, as well as the "huge opportunities" from investing in energy and a shift to a low-carbon economy. The Government reckons that up to 260,000 jobs could be created over the next ten years to serve the nuclear and renewable energy sectors.

There will also be a new focus on apprenticeships. This will see 1,500 new manufacturing apprenticeships, in addition to the 9,000 places announced earlier this year, increasing the total number of manufacturing apprenticeships by more than 10%. The ways that manufacturers access support for skills and training will be simplified.

Other measures outlined in the strategy include:

º  UK Trade & Investment allocating additional resources to support 600 UK companies of all sizes in identifying manufacturing opportunities in India and China.

º  A new Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry, to add to the existing centre in Yorkshire and the one being built in Glasgow. The Coventry centre will have industrial-scale pre-production and demonstration facilities, which could lead to £130m of investment in business-led applied research and its exploitation over the coming ten years. The Technology Strategy Board will also invest £24m in research supporting high-value-added manufacturing.

º  A new body called Manufacturing Insight will aim to improve the public perception of manufacturing and ensure that young people are aware of the career opportunities available. A Manufacturing the Future schools campaign will promote manufacturing career prospects to young people.

The Government’s new strategy has been broadly welcomed by manufacturing trade bodies.

Martin Temple, chairman of the manufacturers’ organisation, EEF, says, for example, that the strategy "sets out a positive and clear understanding of how manufacturing has restructured itself and the role that it can play as a high-value contributor to a balanced economy. The next step, as with all such announcements, is to deliver and back the positive words with firm actions of intent and support."

However, Temple adds that there remains an immediate short-term need to help industry and the wider economy through the current global economic turmoil. "This is a strategy for the long term and one we applaud," he says. "However, it does not detract from the need to use policy in the short term to help companies through the current turmoil and ensure they are in a position to take advantage of the upturn."

For the Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA), Simon McVicker, external affairs manager, describes the strategy as an "important document" that is "a positive, ambitious and committed to manufacturing. I believe the Government has listened to those of us involved in advanced engineering in manufacturing. However the analysis also clearly shows how manufacturing in the economy has declined in the past 10 years and hopefully this strategy will reverse that trend.

"Ultimately," McVicker adds, "this strategy can only be judged on the delivery of these proposals and the long-term effect they will have on the many SMEs in manufacturing. The one major disappointment is that the role of trade associations does not seem to have been recognised and MTA believe that this is key in delivering this sort of strategy. For that reason, I believe we will have to talk further to the Government."

The MTA welcomes, in particular, the Coventry Manufacturing Technology Centre which will focus on the development and application of high-integrity joining and fabrication, expertise in tooling, automation and operational performance, with industrial scale pre-production and demonstration facilities.

The MTA says the Government has listened to its call for a simplification of business support and "cautiously" welcomes Business Links acting as the primary access point for manufacturers, especially in addressing the skills needs.

Ian McCafferty, chief economic adviser at the CBI, describes the strategy document as "a much-needed exercise", adding that it "contains some fresh thinking, with a welcome emphasis on improving manufacturing skills, its public image, technology and the low carbon-economy.

He adds that the Government "must now deliver on its plans" and that it "will also need to put in place a coherent procurement strategy that enables industry to invest with confidence for the long-term."

* The strategy report and supplementary materials are available at www.berr.gov.uk

 

 

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