The Tories’ lack of manufacturing strategy has hit exports hard

We need reform if we are to compete in a globalised economy


The new blueprint for reversing Britain’s chronic trade deficit and kick-starting an energetic export drive has been welcomed by my union, Unite.

The Cole Commission on exports – an action plan from business, commissioned last year by Labour and chaired by AgustaWestland chairman Graham Cole, needs to be used to help rebalance the UK economy away from an over-reliance on the services sector and in favour of manufacturing.

There were worries in industry that the final report (following a hard hitting interim report) would be shelved following Labour’s General Election defeat.

However, given the coalition’s stop/start approach to manufacturing – Osborne’s ‘march of the makers’ was a failure- and an anticipated continuation of those policies by the Tory government, Cole’s report is relevant and timely.

The recent fall in exports has slowed the manufacturing sector’s recovery again, according to the latest survey of the sector by the CBI.

Unite gave evidence to the Cole Commission, whose report calls for cabinet-level political leadership to co-oordinate a strategy for exports, to rebalance the economy away from debt-fuelled consumer spending, the City and the service sector.

The Commission’s report is a chance for Lord Maude, the Tory minister of state for trade and investment, whose portfolio straddles both the Foreign Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, to rise to the challenges set out in the Cole report and start banging heads together.

While there has been some renaissance in UK manufacturing, led by the automotive and aerospace sectors, we still have a serious trade deficit in exporting manufactured goods.

The Cole report provides a stepping stone in constructing a strategy to rebalance the economy by boosting exports.

Unite is calling on ministers to focus on the report’s recommendations, such as a unified body embracing UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) and UK Export Finance (UKEF).

The UK is trading in a fast moving, globalised world, and the current system in the UK is complex and fragmented. Other countries, such as Germany, are much better at pulling all the relevant bodies, including government, business and the unions, together for a vibrant export strategy.

Unite also supports the idea of specialist support for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in the supply chain to get into exporting goods through ‘one stop shops’.

We are calling for reforms to government bodies dealing with exports, with more focus on trade and investment in education.

But what we really need is for the government to commit to a well thought out and joined up manufacturing and industrial strategy, with exports at the centre.

We also need Labour to stand up to the Tories on this key economic policy, and argue for a rebalanced economy that will kickstart an energetic export drive.

Tony Burke is assistant general secretary of Unite

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10 Responses to “The Tories’ lack of manufacturing strategy has hit exports hard”

  1. AlanGiles

    No government has really had a manufacturing strategy in over 30 years. Mrs. Thatcher decreed that we would become a service industry economy and Major, Blair, Brown and Miliband all nodded acquiesence. Sad but true. I doubt if Cameron and Osborne have much idea either.

  2. gunnerbear

    And unless we stop companies off shoring or building new plants abroad nothing is going to change and of course vast protectionist measures would be required to stop expensive UK workers being undercut by cheaper workers abroad. We’d also need dirt cheap energy so all the Green s**t would have to go as well and immigration would have to stop to make UK firms hire and train UK workers, Globalisation has f**ked the UK in terms of making stuff.

  3. stevep

    Of course it has. It`s been a planned race to the bottom which has impoverished billions and left any vestige of world democracy in tatters whilst consolidating the power and position of a wealthy elite.
    At the level where it matters the great global corporations and powers don`t compete with each other or practise free-market capitalism. That is left to wreak havoc among the masses while the elite sit back and enjoy the profits.

  4. dnspncr

    Fuck me, where’s that rightwing troll I was arguing with earlier – is this what it’s like when there’s nobody to debate with… a bunch of lefties sitting around moaning about how shit things are.

  5. stevep

    perhaps you are under the illusion that you are on the SunMail comment`s page instead of a website dedicated to progressive left-of-centre thinking and comment. Just thought I`d be helpful and point it out just in case you have lost your way.

  6. dnspncr

    The Mail comments page, Nick Ferrari phone-ins… anyway you can get the message out to those receiving misinformation has got to be better than preaching to the converted.

  7. TN

    No political party has a strategy for an issue that has been an elephant in the room for decades, as it would mean more than tinkering with the current set up, based on a top heavy finance and service sector.

  8. stevep

    I`d much rather you preach to the converted, all those blue rinses and talk of hedge funds can get a chap excited!

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  10. MarktheMole

    London-based Gibson Index Ltd’s research shows that 95% of smaller manufacturers disappeared during the Labour administration after 1997 – due to mass emigration of skilled workers, the influx of below-cost imports from China, and a property boom that ensured that few factories could produce anything worth more than the value of the site if closed, demolished and turned into flats.

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