Len McCluskey: We must link arms to protect industry that is vital to Britain's prosperity

If the banks won't lend, go round them. Force the banks we own to support this sector
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The Independent Online

Britain needs manufacturing. For every one job the sector creates, four more bloom in supporting sectors.

A quick trip through any one of our great cities reminds us of the wealth that industry brought to this nation in the last and previous century. A quick flick through the headlines today reminds us of the wealth that the scandal-battered banking industry creates but never shares. Our economy needs to be rebalanced.

When I travel the country, I meet business leaders. The one thing that unites them is anguish over the neglect of the promise of manufacturing – the failure to support kids through school to become the mathematicians, scientists, engineers of tomorrow.

One industry leader, based at BMW, contrasted – in frustration – how Germany nourishes new talent with the absence of support for it in the UK.

The educational maintenance allowance must be reinstated because it tells kids who would thrive in high-skills vocational training that learning is valued.

Another CEO told me that the day the Coalition Government announced that the regional development agencies were going, there was a whoop of joy. Not here in Britain but in Frankfurt, where they could celebrate the collapse of big hitters fighting to bring industry to the UK.

Enterprise zones are simply no substitute for co-ordinated intervention. How could Sandwich ever hope to replace lost Pfizer jobs fighting its corner against big regions and governments working together across the rest of Europe? The support for our regions is simply inadequate. This is neglect.

Whether it is Plan A or Plan B, we urgently need a strategy for growing our economy. Vince Cable has bemoaned the absence of one. We see in the unemployment figures, where in the North-east and North-west joblessness is growing as the public sector shrinks, there is no private sector coming through to provide new jobs.

That is why we need a minister for manufacturing, someone with clout at the Cabinet table, someone cutting their way through the indifference to reassure the sector that we are serious about support. Was such a position in place now, we would not be seeing Coryton asset-stripped, a coastal community lost, skilled workers languish, while across the Channel the French government bails in with support to save their counterparts.

Manufacturing degree courses, with a university devoted to finding school talent and bringing it through, would send the clear signal that this is the nation to set up business, that we value talent.

A national investment bank charged with ensuring that manufacturers of all sizes got the financial support they are crying out for would end the stagnation blighting the sector. Some £754bn of resources is sitting in the big banks' accounts. This is money not spent on jobs, training and investment because business is scared to because consumers are scared – or cannot afford – to spend.

If the banks won't lend, won't play their part in giving this country its confidence back, go round them. Force the banks we own to support this sector.

Yes, our motor industry is thriving. As GM proved at Ellesmere Port, and JLR in the Midlands too, the industry has recognised the benefits of in-country componentry too, not having a supply chain that is disjointed across the globe. This means jobs. Praise must go to the Government for the part they played in securing this future, battling for British industry. So why was there no support for Bombardier or BAE and today Coryton?

We are still a proud manufacturing nation today. It is still the best hope we have of creating jobs in the numbers we need. It is still the best way of spreading wealth from the boardroom to communities. We now need to link arms to keep the sector thriving. And we need to do it now.

Len McCluskey is the general secretary of the union Unite