Heseltine ticks off engineers for their silence

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Business Editor

Engineers, accountants and industry trade associations were yesterday given a severe ticking off by Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, for failing to produce effective and united lobbying bodies able to tackle issues of national importance.

Mr Heseltine was speaking at the launch of the Engineering Council, a new organisation that hopes for the first time to speak for the whole of the engineering profession.

It replaces a previous body of the same name that tried unsuccessfully to speak for the engineering institutions. Half of its members are directly elected by individual engineers from a variety of disciplines.

Mr Heseltine said he had deliberately not asked his officials to seek the help of Britain's various engineering institutions in research on his two white papers on competitiveness because he did not think they would have had anything useful to contribute.

Speaking to an audience largely composed of engineers, he asked: "Was I wrong? Would I really have got an input from engineers? That was not the way we felt.

"We went to the CBI, because the CBI had set up a National Manufacturing Council which put competitiveness at the leading edge of its debate."

Mr Heseltine said engineers were central to the debate about how to improve Britain's competitiveness, but he complained that they were never heard from.

He said: "I don't remember the engineers over the last decade, two decades, three decades - 10 decades frankly - saying it was intolerable the way engineering and all that goes with it has been marginalised in the education of this country, to the point at which we aren't developing young people trained and equipped as some of our peers are doing."

He added: "This is why people like me are trying to get people like you to become more involved in society."

Mr Heseltine widened the ticking off to include others, saying: "You have exactly the same problem with the accountants. People have tried to bring them together and they have failed. You have got exactly the same problem with the trade associations."

He acknowledged that some progress was being made but said: "It is slow, it is painful and and if you look at it from the outside the arguments why progress does not take place stand up to no sort of intellectual scrutiny."