'Help us, or UK will lose its edge'

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The Independent Online

Britain's hi-tech manufacturers issued a warning to the coalition today that the country will lose its place in world rankings unless industry receives more help.

The GE survey of 400 of the UK's hi-tech manufacturing companies reports that Britain could fall from sixth to eighth position in global rankings if it doesn't boost skills, get rid of red-tape and improve access to capital.

The report says that half of the industrialists warn that Britain could be overtaken by China and India in a decade's time.

Mark Elborne, the chief executive of the UK arm of the American giant GE, said that while Britain's advanced manufacturing sector is growing strongly – at a faster rate than the rest of the economy – the industry wanted positive action to help create more vocational training and apprenticeships, and also needed a review of taxation and export duties.

The warning comes as the coalition prepares for its first advanced manufacturing summit on Tuesday, to be attended by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and the Business Secretary, Vince Cable. More than a 100 industrialists, academics and policy-makers will be present at the meeting, which is being chaired by Mark Prisk, a Business minister.

Mr Prisk said last week: "Growth in the private sector is top of the agenda so we are listening to industry. Manufacturing is enjoying a real boom – output, exports and jobs are all looking up and are at a 16-month high."

Many new jobs will be created in the near future by companies such as Land Rover Jaguar, Bosch, GSK but more are needed, he said.

"The reason for the summit is to hear from industrialists what more we can do to help and to debate with them how we can improve their image. Even industry realises it needs a makeover, to improve its image."

"We want to make industry sexy again; change its perception in the media but also in the schools and with students. That means that we have to look at the incentives to students, have to get teachers into industry but also industry talking more directly to schools. Once students realise they can earn more as an engineer than in finance there might be a big shift."

Mr Prisk said the summit's findings would inform the growth review being undertaken by the Government which will feed into this year's Budget. Big hopes are being pinned on the new university technology colleges and technology innovation centres – modelled on Germany's Fraunhofer institutes – and the review of further education colleges, he said.

Central to the Government's industrial policy is helping to build the supply chain for big business. "The Automotive Council – set up by the last government – has been successful at getting businesses to work together to create a critical mass," Mr Prisk said. "We need more work like this throughout manufacturing and to strengthen those ties in the supply chain."