Jack Semple, Secretary of EAMA (of which MTA is a member), has taken a look at a speech made by Sir Kier Starmer (leader of the Labour Party) earlier this week.  In the noise of the Conservative Party Leadership context, it did not get much intention, but it is worth taking a look at, especially for our sector.

Among the highlights, Jack notes that Kier Starmer said that Britain “has an extraordinary genius when it comes to manufacturing”.  He said that the UK leads the world in pharmaceuticals, bio-science and aerospace, that Nissan Sunderland is one of the most productive [car] factories in Europe, and that he had seen 3D engineering at Airbus in Filton.  We can and should take advantage of these strengths.  The road to higher growth and productivity runs right through them.

“But we are not Germany.  The role manufacturing plays in our economy will always be different,” he said.  Starmer’s comments came in a speech on the economy – he said:  “We need three things.  Growth. Growth. And growth” – an echo of Tony Blair’s priority of “education, education, education”.  He also said that eastern Germany was an example of what can be achieved by levelling up when it  “is based on practical plans, not far-fetched promises.

Starmer announced that Labour would set up a statutory Industrial Strategy Council, with a broad remit.  It would help to shape policy in a similar way to the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Committee on Climate Change.

You can find a link to his speech at https://labour.org.uk/press/keir-starmer-speech-on-labours-mission-for-economic-growth/

Jack then adds some thoughts on the speech.  He notes that Starmer’s comments on manufacturing were clearly intended to be positive and it is possible that we might hear more.  But they appear to fall short of the sort of commitment many in the sector would like to see and may reflect a lack of clarity as to how manufacturing is seen by the UK’s political leadership.

The assertion that the UK has a genius for manufacturing will surprise many, given issues facing the sector and its position relative to international competitors – notwithstanding that the country has some world class manufacturers.  Labour may wish to explain its understanding of what the genius is and how it might be more widely applied.

Starmer’s reference to manufacturing in Germany will be seen by in the light of a recent article in The Observer from Resolution Foundation chief executive Torsten Bell, headlined: “Why be a poor version of Germany instead of doing what we do best? Manufacturing is not our forte.  But we are world beaters at services.”  The think tank has published a policy paper in a similar vein.

The Johnson government identified a new imperative in February, when it said in the Levelling Up White Paper that: “We must… reverse the historic decline in manufacturing in the UK”  However, there have been no new policy commitments or funding behind that, only the promise – two months later – of a Manufacturing Investment Prospectus, bundling together existing initiatives.

Both manufacturing and levelling up have been barely mentioned in the leadership contest and the likely views of the new Conservative government are open to speculation of these issues, as much else.

In contrast with the UK government, the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales have developed national Manufacturing Action Plans.

We welcome feedback from members – contact Jack Semple by email at [email protected].

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