Chuka Umunna: Manufacturing can boom if we really want it to

Viewpoint: We need government willing to step up, not wanting to step back and blame business

One of the joys of my role as Shadow Business Secretary is the opportunities I get to visit the future. Up and down the country, I get to see some of the very best of British manufacturing, innovating today to create transformational change tomorrow. Sometimes this future blows my mind, like the microchips I saw being developed in Southampton which will help us to monitor our health in real time, or the electric vehicle Jaguar Land Rover is aiming to produce which, if charged using renewable energy sources, would emit less CO2 when driven than the food intake required to walk.

These are just two examples, but they reflect a broader picture. Since 1997, far from slipping back, productivity in UK manufacturing rose by 50 per cent. In high technology manufacturing we are now second only to the US among major economies. And although only 11 per cent of our GDP, manufacturing accounts for almost half of our exports.

So I am an optimist about our economic future and the role of manufacturing within it. But let us not be under any illusions. We have seen our currency depreciate sharply since the global financial crisis and we have not yet seen an export-led boom.

We must develop greater strength in depth, developing our manufacturing capacity by lengthening and strengthening supply chains. Our challenge is to make British excellence in manufacturing commonplace, boring even. This is not about quick fixes but about the long haul: consistent, determined steps forward, with active government working in step with industry.

In the short term, businesses are worrying about where demand will come from. Our economy has sunk back into recession, a recession made in Downing Street. The Conservative-led government has failed to show the leadership needed at home and abroad, and failed to take the action to guide our economy back to growth. As the Business Secretary reflected, this is a government that lacks any "compelling vision" about our national economic future. As a result, firms with cash are sitting on it, uncertain about the future and unwilling to invest. Those with good ideas can't borrow the investment capital they need. We need to restore confidence and get our economy moving.

In the longer term, there should be no lack of demand for world-beating firms with world-beating products. In the next two decades, there will be an explosion in demand as the global middle class triples in size to 5 billion people. That's a lot of demand we should be preparing our economy to meet. But to take full advantage of these opportunities, we must reform and reshape our economy.

We must reform it so firms have greater encouragement and support to focus on long-term value creation, not short-term profit extraction. The tax regime must encourage this, along with reporting requirements and government procurement. The financing options available to firms must support it, along with the skills base.

We must reshape our economy so that it is more resilient, more competitive and more inclusive: more resilient, with growth more broadly based across sectors and regions; more competitive, given shifts in the global economy and the pace of technological change; and more inclusive, with the benefits of future growth more widely shared.

This must be our national mission; building a successful economy that underpins the kind of cohesive, dynamic and inclusive society we want to see. This won't be achieved by an ideological Conservative-led government wedded to outdated orthodoxies: that the economy will fix itself; that the best government can do is to stand back; that markets never fail.

We need government willing to step up, not wanting to step back, to blame business and to cross its fingers. We need active government working hand in hand with productive business.

We must do this to give our firms the secure platform they need — access to the finance, the skills and the infrastructure to compete in fair markets. Strong competition in the marketplace must be complemented by greater opportunities for productive collaboration away from the market, to the benefit of all: collaboration that supports innovation, that develops manufacturing capacity by nurturing supply chains, that trains the workforce in the skills needed.

I have no doubt there can be a strong future for British manufacturing, but we have to really want it. We have plenty of examples of success to build on. But we can't rely on the heroic efforts of the few. We must make manufacturing success easier. This won't happen by chance. It will take consistent, deliberate action by government, working with industry for the long term. Only then can we fulfil the promise of manufacturing.

Chuka Umunna is Shadow Business Secretary and Member of Parliament for Streatham

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

Sales Executive

£20 - 24k (Uncapped Commission - £35k Year 1 OTE): Guru Careers: We are seekin...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week