Brendan Barber: We must stop talking down British manufacturing

From a speech by the general secretary of the TUC at a conference on manufacturing in London
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The Independent Online

I have no wish to be a doom-and-gloom merchant about British manufacturing. The real doom-mongers are those in the City who say that our manufacturing days are over. They ignore the European example that shows manufacturing can prosper in terms of jobs, exports, output, investment and productivity. There is no reason why UK manufacturing, with clear strategic support, cannot match the best in the world.

I have no wish to be a doom-and-gloom merchant about British manufacturing. The real doom-mongers are those in the City who say that our manufacturing days are over. They ignore the European example that shows manufacturing can prosper in terms of jobs, exports, output, investment and productivity. There is no reason why UK manufacturing, with clear strategic support, cannot match the best in the world.

But we must not lose sight of what is happening on the ground. The latest figures may show a tentative recovery, but the problems we face are severe. Investment is at an historic low; 106,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in the year to April alone; and over three-quarters of a million jobs have gone since 1997, many in hi-tech industries.

The Government has delivered economic stability, but this masks a two-speed economy: full-speed ahead in services, but rather too much of manufacturing stuck in reverse. It's hardly a surprise that the public image of manufacturing is so downbeat. We must change the perception of manufacturing, especially among young people. We must try to replicate the positive attitude seen in countries like Germany and Japan.

We must invest more. We need business to raise its game. Rather than bleating about a regulatory regime that the World Bank and OECD rank as one of the lightest in Europe, employers should be investing in capital equipment and particularly in skills. This is not about turning the clock back to the state intervention of the 1970s. It's about enabling British manufacturing to compete on a level playing field.

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