Hewitt attacks manufacturing doom merchants at the TUC

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The Independent Online

Patricia Hewitt will hit back at union "doom-mongers" tomorrow for running down British industry by telling a TUC-sponsored conference that, far from there being a shortage of manufacturing jobs, almost 60,000 are currently going begging.

Patricia Hewitt will hit back at union "doom-mongers" tomorrow for running down British industry by telling a TUC-sponsored conference that, far from there being a shortage of manufacturing jobs, almost 60,000 are currently going begging.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will warn the unions not to talk down the sector with "rhetoric" about the number of manufacturing jobs lost since Labour came to power and instead concentrate on promoting industry. Her message, to be delivered at a conference held in the TUC's Congress House headquarters, follows a report last week from the organisation claiming that 750,000 manufacturing jobs have been shed since 1997.

Ms Hewitt is expected to tell delegates: "From some of the rhetoric around, you would assume that there are no jobs left in UK manufacturing - but today there are 58,000 vacancies in the sector. That's 58,000 jobs that need filling now with skilled, enthusiastic people.

"But what chance do we have of filling these - of recruiting the engineers and technicians of the future - if all young people ever hear is doom and gloom about the sector?" The minister will go on to say that 250,000 manufacturing vacancies were reported to Job Centres in the past year. "My message is - don't talk down the sector, British manufacturing has a good story to tell and there are good jobs that need filling."

Last night, the CBI joined in the fightback against the TUC's claims, praising Ms Hewitt for warning that too much gloom and doom could cause damage. John Cridland, the deputy director general of the employers' organisation, said: "The unions should stop living a fantasy. The days of mass manufacturing employment, state aid and handouts have gone forever. The future for the sector will not be the same as the past but that does not mean there will not be successes."

Ms Hewitt will also publish a review of the Government's manufacturing strategy showing that it continues to contribute £150bn to the economy - a sixth of national output - and provide 3.5 million jobs. She will also point out that manufacturing supports a further 2.4 million service sector jobs and accounts for 75 per cent of all research and development carried out in the UK.

Manufacturing export volumes went up by 75 per cent in the past 10 years, while the number of apprentice trainees has gone up from 75,000 when Labour came to power to 255,000 now. UK manufacturing output grew by 0.2 per cent last year - in line with the US and Germany - while manufacturing productivity rose by 23 per cent in the six years to 2003.

But surveys show that little or no progress has been made since Labour gained office in closing the productivity gap with the UK's competitors.

A report last month by the Engineering Employers Federation blamed this on government red tape and lack of financial incentives for firms to invest in new technology.

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