Productivity figures sink government hopes of an economic revival

In 2014 the UK was 24 per cent less productive than Germany


Today’s statistics on productivity have highlighted that the government’s lack of an active industrial and manufacturing strategy, and the failure to take decisive action to support UK manufacturing industries such as steel is leaving the UK trailing behind in the global productivity stakes.

The UK is fast disappearing in the rearview mirror of Germany, France and the USA. Even Spain and Holland are now motoring ahead of the UK.

The figures show that in manufacturing, the UK was 24 per cent less productive than Germany, 18 per cent less productive than France and a massive 45 per cent less productive than the USA.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), output per hour across the UK economy in 2014 was 18 per cent below the average for the rest of the major G7 advanced economies, representing the widest productivity gap since comparable estimates began in 1991.

Unite has been arguing that the Tory government’s failure to adopt an active industrial strategy is holding back the UK’s productivity in manufacturing and also leading to the loss of vital skills in key industries such as steel and oil.

Chancellor George Osborne is relying on a low wage, low skilled zombie economy built on zero hours, agency and temporary work with little job security – it is no wonder we are falling further behind.

A study by Unite published last year in co-operation with Syracuse University compared productivity between the UK, Germany, France and the USA.

It pointed out that in order to have a highly productive economy we need to ensure that workers are highly skilled, highly motivated, highly valued, informed and consulted and that industry is supported through investment – in the supply chain as well as the major manufacturing companies.

Ministers need to ask why France, with its national 35-hour week, and Germany, where trade unions play a key role in the economy, has much higher productivity than the UK.

It is time that the government woke up to the fact that working longer hours on poor pay will not boost productivity. We need a coherent plan for skills and an industrial strategy that invests and nurtures manufacturing for the future. Not the current ‘hands free’, laissez faire approach of this government.

Government ministers and businesses need to wake up to fact that a skilled, dedicated and secure workforce, with trade union representation is a more productive one.

Tony Burke is assistant general secretary of Unite responsible for manufacturing

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