THE Company of Cutlers last night called on the Government to set up an independent office to help British manufacturers compete on a level playing field with their international rivals.
Senior warden Tony Pedder told the 377th annual Cutlers Feast in Sheffield that an Office for Manufacturing Competitiveness could assess the impact of Government policy on UK industry.
“This Government has already created an independent Office for Budget Responsibility,” he told the audience at Cutlers Hall.
“What more powerful signal could our politicians send of the importance they really attach to genuine rebalancing than to put manufacturing competitiveness up there alongside budget responsibility?”
Mr Pedder, the chairman of Sheffield Forgemasters, said the office would be made up of experts and practitioners, rather than politicians, who could comment independently on budgets, plans and proposals.
He said this would address the failure of successive governments to embed a consistent policy for manufacturing.
“Don’t we need deep-rooted cross-party commitment? Even small-scale manufacturers take investment decisions which mature over periods often longer than the life of a Government,” he said. “How confident can we be in taking such tough decisions when the environment in which we operate has such little predictability?”
Mr Pedder said an independent office could play a strong role in commenting on energy policies and question whether it is wise to press on with strict climate change targets in the face of serious economic stagnation.
He said the current measures will hit UK manufacturers’ energy bills and risk supply continuity at a time when competitor countries are not loading similar costs and risks onto their businesses.
Mr Pedder added that the office might also question whether taking so long to decide on key infrastructure projects is “an immovable feature of UK governance”.
And he said the office could comment on banking reform, which he argued needs to go further to lower the barrier to new players entering the market and make it easier for businesses to switch accounts.
Mr Pedder, a former chief executive of steelmaker Corus, said the office could guide the country on the European debate.
“Surely if there is to be some renegotiation to change the emphasis of the EU and some aspects of its operation, isn’t this about having, at the heart of the EU, a determination across Europe, above all else, to make the EU a really competitive trading bloc which can compete strongly in world markets with the USA, China, India and others?” he asked.
“That means blowing away many of the burdens, the red tape and the irrelevancies and ensuring the European environment is conducive to investment, to innovation, to wealth creation and to meaningful jobs.
“A view from an independent office on how it perceives any renegotiated terms could be a powerful element in the choice our electorate will apparently have to make.”
Mr Pedder said rebalancing is not just about Government and urged business to avoid own goals like the various banking scandals.
He added that business leaders need to be better at explaining their actions, particularly around remuneration and tax planning.
“If we don’t, we’ll continue to generate anti-business rhetoric and ill-thought through, knee-jerk legislation and distract debate and action away from the really important structural issues.
“Most businesses and certainly those I know in this region believe in their corporate responsibilities to their workforce, to their communities and to the environment.
“Most would still today not find the Cutlers’ Company’s motto inappropriate for their businesses; Pour Y Parvenir a Bonne Foi – For the keeping of good faith.”
Britain’s most senior policeman, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe was the principal guest at last night’s dinner, which was attended by some of Britain’s leading industrialists.
The Sheffield-born policeman was promoted to Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in 2011.
In his address, the Master Cutler Neil MacDonald told guests: “It is a great honour and privilege to serve as Master Cutler at any time, but 2013 is particularly special because this year marks the centenary of the discovery of stainless steel by Harry Brearley in the Brown Firth laboratories right here in Sheffield.
“That discovery changed the world and has made Sheffield synonymous worldwide with stainless steel and cutlery.”