General election competition will turbocharge British industry
There is now a growing consensus about the importance of UK manufacturing among our political parties. With the ballot box around the corner, long may this continue.
After years when manufacturing has too often been pushed to the bottom of political priority lists, I have been pleased of late to see politicians of all hues carolling out the need for a sovereign manufacturing capability here in the UK.
Instead of being the forgotten sector, today – with all we learned through the pandemic and from the impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – manufacturing is now recognised as a key building block for a resilient UK economy. Every party seems to have woken up to the fact that without the ability to make things here, we will find ourselves uncomfortably exposed.
That recognition is playing through into preparations for the next General Election, potentially just 12 – 18 months away.
The Government has undoubtedly intensified its focus on industrial sectors with tax breaks that will help our manufacturers – particularly the full expensing announced by the Chancellor at his spring budget – and a fulsome commitment to investing in R&D. We’ve also seen Government take steps towards addressing some of the UK’s principal supply chain concerns, with the launch of the £1bn Semiconductor Strategy and establishment of an independent Critical Minerals Taskforce, which I chair. We’ve even seen His Majesty’s Treasury, often depicted as only interested in the service sector, reaching out to embrace leading captains of industry at one of its flagship ‘Business Connect’ events led by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and acting Science Secretary Chloe Smith at our Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry this month.
But the Government isn’t the only party banging the industrial drum. Earlier this month, we saw the full list of policy proposals and policy programme produced by Labour’s National Policy Forum. There is some way to go before the leaked list is transformed into a manifesto, but there can be no doubt that many of its eye-catching promises to industry will become part of the offer the Party makes to business leaders looking for a final confirmation that Labour is the Party for them.
And there is much that will find favour, with commitments to dedicate 3% of GDP to research and development (R&D), to invest £28bn of public capital a year into the green economy, more than double onshore wind capacity, triple solar and quadruple offshore wind as part of efforts to deliver clean power by 2030 and strip away planning barriers to speed the delivery of renewable energy projects, all alongside what is described as an “active” industrial strategy and the creation of a statutory Industry Strategy Council of industry, unions and policy experts.
And where there isn’t political competition, there is some useful consensus. For example, South Yorkshire’s Labour mayor, Oliver Coppard, welcomed the announcement of a dozen ‘investment zones’ – including his combined authority – in March’s Budget. These zones are clustered around a research facility and backed by £80m to encourage local growth in technology, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, creative industries and the green sector.
We also should not forget the Liberal Democrats, after all, a party of government as recently as 2015. Their ambitions include reaching 80% renewable power by 2030 and a green investment programme. Ambitions which cannot be achieved without a thriving industrial community.
And the support for industry isn’t limited to Westminster. In Scotland, first minister and leader of the SNP, Humza Yousaf, has promised centres of excellence for a range of sectors, including advanced manufacturing, green technologies, digital industries, health & life sciences. These hubs would join our National Manufacturing Institute Scotland, which works to boost productivity, make companies more competitive and improve the skills of our current and future workforce.
Plaid Cymru and the Green Party have long promoted the cause of clean technology jobs – their commitments should not be forgotten because they are smaller parties. Those policy positions help influence debates among their political opponents.
So long left out in the cold, the many thousands who are part of the country’s industrial heart are welcoming the change, perhaps just a little frustrated that it has taken so long for policy-makers to recognise the value they bring. Today, no political party wanting to be taken seriously at the ballot box can afford to ignore them.
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