Sheffield manufacturers can seed a new industrial revolution if they rediscover the vision of the steel entrepreneurs of old, the Cutlers’ Feast heard.
Juergen Maier, chief executive of Siemens UK, said business conditions were better than they had been for decades. But bosses had to take the ‘next step’ and be bolder and export, invest, innovate and educate for the long term.
The 379th Cutlers’ Feast was held at the opulent Cutlers’ Hall in Sheffield last night. The white tie event, billed as the most important business dinner north of London, was attended by hundreds of politicians and representatives from industry, the civil service, the military, City of London livery companies and freemen of the Company of Cutlers.
Mr Maier, the principal guest, questioned whether firms were ‘global enough’ in their thinking, after hearing complaints about EU regulations.
He added: “You can’t be part of the EU or global trading without significant regulation. So isn’t it better to lead on defining that regulation, rather than leave it up to someone else?”
A 2012 survey showed 94 per cent of companies didn’t export, he added.
“Is that the level of ambition we want? And are we investing enough in skills and innovation to change that?
“We at Siemens are great advocates of skills – like the University Technical College here in Sheffield which we are supporting and the 500 apprentices that we have in training up and down the country.
“Yet we know only around 16 per cent of SME’s support these apprenticeships. Is that good enough?
“It is not - and we need to do more. We need to believe in our young people and back this belief with investment.
“And, we, the manufacturers must address the productivity puzzle to unlock sustained wage and output growth.”
He concluded: “If manufacturers create a little more of the ambition and vision shown by the Sheffield steel barons, inventors and entrepreneurs of several generations the city can seed a new industrial revolution.”
Senior Warden, chief executive of Evenort Craig McKay, said “genuine devolution” was needed to create a stronger and bigger private sector.
He added: “Sheffield expects delivery on devolution promises and although the investment in infrastructure has started, and we now have a strong focus on and control of our World Class skills pipeline genuine devolution is still required if we are to achieve targeted growth at a local level and create a stronger bigger private sector.”
The Local Enterprise Partnership has set a target of 6,000 new businesses and 70,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.
He added: “This needs a new vision of what Sheffield City Region will look like in the future. It needs drive, enthusiasm and leadership.
“Sheffield needs our political leaders to establish this vision and energise stakeholders who are all keen to contribute to the delivery of a co-ordinated plan for the industrial renaissance of South Yorkshire.
“Having undersold ourselves for years, now is the time for action because opportunity knocks and we all have a part to play.
“We need support from the government to provide the correct environment. We the business community, need to proactively take advantage of the environment, get productive and grow.
“We need the region to be unleashed through devolution.
“Sheffield is the best. The best city region, the best place to invest and the best place for manufacturing.”