Left-leaning think tank criticises Government support for manufacturing

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The Independent Online

Apprenticeships should be open to people in their forties and fifties, according to a report on the UK's declining manufacturing sector from a leading think-tank.

The Institute for Public Policy Research, a left-leaning organisation, said yesterday it was, however, against any increase to corporation tax and any notion that involved imposing compulsory training programmes on employers.

The IPPR's report concludes that industrial decline in Britain is a long-term process, which cannot be reversed. "We should face these trends with equanimity but not complacency," it said as it concluded that Government policy can help make the process "gradual" - unlike the accelerated erosion of Britain's manufacturing base seen between 1997 and 2002.

The think-tank was highly critical of the Government's various support schemes for business. It is thought the Department for Trade and Industry provided some £1bn of funding a year. The IPPR said these programmes were not rigorously evaluated for effectiveness and provided "poor value for money".

Richard Brooks, co-author of the report, said: "We cannot be sure whether such [Government] spending represents value for money, whether the pattern of current spending is appropriate, or whether we should be spending more or less overall on such initiatives. The DTI's ongoing review of business support must address these issues."

The IPPR said the existing age limit, of 25, on the "Modern Apprenticeships" in the manufacturing sector should be lifted immediately. Mr Brooks said there should be no age limit for industry. "Modern Apprenticeships are particularly appropriate for the manufacturing sector, where there are good quality courses and a clear need for people with these sorts of skills," he said.

It is the IPPR's policy conclusions on taxation and training that will be considered the most surprising. The organisation came out strongly against any hike in corporation tax, to plug the larger-than-expected gap that has opened up between the Government's spending plans and tax revenues. If higher taxes are to be imposed, they must fall on the consumer, Mr Brooks said.

The IPPR said that businesses should not be compelled to increase their levels of employee training. Instead, companies should receive more effective help in planning their training needs.