The message to Chuka Umunna and his shadow BIS team – be bold

Relying on short-term, low skill jobs to boost the economy is not the answer.

Support for manufacturing will play well on the doorstep

This coming week’s conference in Manchester will provide the Labour Party with an opportune platform to make a clear statement that it supports a total re-balancing of the UK economy – with an industrial and manufacturing strategy at its heart.

The recent growth in the economy is still being driven by the service sector (and house prices in the south east), rather than a shift towards building a long-term economic strategy based on making and exporting goods.

Whilst any growth in the economy is welcome, overall manufacturing growth is still sluggish, with the automotive and aerospace sectors the main drivers.

These are two industries which Unite (and other unions) have argued need special attention and assistance through the current crop of proposed Industrial Partnerships (others include the Chemicals and Steel sectors – to name but two).

Over the past year Unite has been busy promoting our ‘Made in Britain’ strategy to re-balance the economy. We have met the shadow BIS team, MPs, government officials, employers and many members within our own union.

Unite’s submission to Labour’s review, headed by Jaguar Land Rover’s Mike Wright and announced at last year’s conference, added weight to the call for Labour to adopt a robust manufacturing strategy, with a new eco skills system at its heart alongside a strategic investment bank. It also called for on-going investment in research and development, a commitment to stay in the European Union, a UK procurement strategy and a strategic plan to bring back the manufacturing supply chain back to the UK – as is happening in the Automotive sector.

We have also argued for to commit to have a minister for manufacturing with a seat in the cabinet to pull all the strings together.

In addition to an overall manufacturing strategy for the UK, Unite is promoting specific sector strategies, including aerospace, marine, defense and the space industries; as well as general engineering and soon the automotive sector, with a plan to ensure the sector stays strong and continues to grow rather than face a cycle of boom and decline.

As Professor David Bailey of Aston University (who contributed to Unite’s automotive strategic plan) warned recently:

“Car sales are peaking and may even decline slightly next year as the credit-fuelled new car sales boom reaches the end of the road. Around 75 per cent of UK new car sales are financed by lenders and cheap credit has driven sales. In fact, there are signs that the engine behind the sales boom is already starting to splutter, in the form of the personal contract purchase or plan (PCP) financing scheme which the big car firms’ finance divisions used to lure us into showrooms and to drive new cars.”

Meanwhile the coalition’s manufacturing strategy has been piecemeal. Growth still remains below its pre-crisis strength.

George Osborne’s ‘March Of The Makers’, announced at the beginning of the coalition’s reign, has taken three steps forward and two back – but watch out for an Osborne and Cameron undertake a ‘hard hat’ tour of manufacturing companies before the election.

Nick Clegg’s regional strategy to bring growth back to the regions has failed; productivity remains stubbornly low and despite helpful words from Vince Cable at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), lending to companies is still below where it needs to be, with trillions of pounds sitting in company bank accounts and sloshing around the city.

Last week the Engineering Employers Federation issued polling results which showed that ordinary voters want to see a resurgence of UK industry. Official data this week showed that the squeeze on wages is continuing and economists are saying that a strong manufacturing sector is the key in driving up productivity and pay.

In the EEF poll four out of five voters (85 per cent) want the next government to promote a stronger UK manufacturing base, with 62 per cent believing it will give the country more economic security.

“The message to parties and political leaders is loud and clear: a strong, rebalanced economy has to be the long-term end goal and at the heart of your election offering,” said EEF’s chief executive Terry Scuoler. Unite agrees.

So the message to Chuka Umunna and his shadow BIS team is – be bold. Set out your stall for a robust and interventionist manufacturing strategy, proving decent, well-paid jobs and apprenticeships with a future. Relying on short-term, low skill jobs to boost the economy is not an answer.

Workers and their families in manufacturing will be the backbone of any future economic revival – and if the EEF are right, supporting manufacturing will play well on the doorstep.

Tony Burke is assistant general secretary of Unite

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