Bernard Ginns: Where is the Government champion for British industry?

Sajid Javid
Sajid Javid
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TOUGH TIMES continue for many Yorkshire manufacturers, if the latest survey from industry group EEF and law firm DLA Piper is anything to go by.

Their outlook survey claims that factories are enduring a difficult end to the year amid “gathering gloom” in the global economy.

The fourth quarter report shows further deterioration in most of UK manufacturing’s key indicators suggesting that, after a big step forward in growth in 2014, industry has taken a step back this year. The gloomy outlook has triggered the first negative forecast for employment and investment in almost six years, the survey added.

Andy Tuscher, regional director at EEF, said: “The prospect of manufacturing growth this year has all but faded away with another disappointing set of indicators from our survey.

“The downbeat mood may not be universal across all industry sectors, but in the face of mounting challenges it seems to be spreading and companies in this region are certainly not immune. The impact on manufacturers’ employment and investment plans suggests that these clouds will be hanging over us as we go into next year.

“While the Chancellor’s recent Spending Review will have been seen as supportive to industry, it is critical that Government continues to act to ensure that the UK is a competitive location for manufacturing.”

Richard May, head of the manufacturing sector at DLA Piper, added: “As the year draws to a close the results of the survey show that it has undoubtedly been a very challenging one for manufacturers.

“The contraction of the sector in 2015 appears to have been a real blow to confidence and the outlook for next year is also rather gloomy.”

And what is our Government doing? Laying waste to support structures established under the former Business Secretary Vince Cable, it seems.

The Chancellor has taken an axe to its £84m-a-year business growth services, including the well-regarded Manufacturing Advisory Service.

He made no mention of the move in his Comprehensive Spending Review. I wonder why.

Greg Mulholland, the Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West, said: “It is utterly disgraceful that the Government has chosen to shut down Business Growth Service to make short-term savings.

“What is even more disgraceful is their attempt to sneak the decision through, without proper debate. The Chancellor claimed he wanted to continue the Industrial Strategy, but he is doing the absolute opposite.

“Closing these services is bad for business, bad for growth, and bad for the credibility of the Government’s claims to support manufacturing.”

Lorely Burt, the Lib Dem’s business spokeswoman, added: “The Manufacturing Advisory Service was... an important part of the Industrial Strategy set up by Vince Cable. Sadly we now have Business Secretary who is more interested in offering up cuts to the Chancellor than supporting businesses to grow.”

Tough times call for strong leadership. So what is Sajid Javid, Vince Cable’s predecessor, offering in the way of support for manufacturing?

Manufacturers broadly buy the argument for austerity, but would like to hear that the Government values their sector, given the endless talk about economic rebalancing.

I asked a spokesman at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills how many set-piece speeches about manufacturing Mr Javid has made since taking office in May.

No reply was forthcoming.

The spokesman did say that Mr Javid has written an op-ed article about manufacturing for The Spectator. I guess retired colonels and Tory wannabes in the Westminster bubble will be relieved. Apparently the former investment banker is also planning to speak at an EEF dinner in February “diary commitments allowing”. A real champion for industry.