TWO-THIRDS of manufacturers in Yorkshire and the Humber believe a closer relationship with the European Union will help to drive reform and change in the industry, according to a new survey.
The Sheffield office of national law firm Nabarro carried out the research with a representative cross-section of 38 manufacturers across the region after the Deputy Prime Minister called for better links with Europe.
The results showed 66 per cent of those questioned agreed with him and favoured the UK playing a more significant role in the EU – although they did not favour joining the eurozone.
Only one manufacturer favoured the UK converting its currency, while two wanted the UK to withdraw completely from the EU. Just over 18 per cent favoured reducing the country’s involvement with the union, while three manufacturers said the status quo should be maintained.
Nabarro partner Martin McKervey said: “The results are highly revealing, not least that only one single manufacturer expressed a wish for the UK to go the whole way and enter the eurozone and only two advocating the opposite argument, full withdrawal from the EU.”
The survey was prompted by Nick Clegg’s speech at the Global Manufacturing Festival (GMF) lunch in Sheffield last month. Addressing the audience, he said: “When confronted by a UK withdrawal from the EU, foreign-owned manufacturers would simply close down their UK sites and move them to France or Italy.
“Threatening to leave diminishes the UK’s position within the EU and the stakes are too high for foot-stamping. Rather than withdraw, we should lead the reform of the EU. There is nothing ‘bulldog’ about retreating into a corner.”
The GMF, at which Nabarro is the headline sponsor, is a three-day event held at venues across the city, focusing on what the manufacturing industry has to offer.
It aimed to inspire the next generation of engineers, as well as bringing education and businesses closer together in order to turn innovative ideas into commercial success stories.
Mr Clegg, whose constituency is in the city, praised the event, which he said was “a brilliant, brilliant way of celebrating and putting on a pedestal all our achievements in the manufacturing sector.”
Mr McKervey said the survey, showing two-thirds of manufacturers in support of Mr Clegg’s stance, was a clear consensus for the industry to be helped by “a clearer, closer position at the heart of the EU, influencing policy and driving reform”.
He added: “Manufacturers must have a stronger voice within the EU if they are to benefit properly from the UK’s membership and this poll can be seen as representative of the region’s manufacturing sector. If they are to be heard, their strongly-stressed wish for greater integration within the EU must be carried all the way to Westminster and to Brussels.”
Responding to the results of the survey, UK manufacturing organisation EEF called for more debate over the future of the country’s relationship with the EU, including how the organisation will develop.
Andy Tuscher, EEF’s director for the northern region, said: “The EEF recognises the major role that the EU has played in shaping the UK economy and is currently running an EU Challenge which is enabling manufacturing companies to have a clear voice in the debate on the nature of our future relationship with the EU.
“The EU debate must consider including industry’s access to the single market and growing markets around the world, inward investment, accessing skills from other parts of the EU, exposure to regulation from Brussels and how Britain works with other countries on major challenges such as energy, climate change and global security.
“It is also about what the EU should be in the future and how it needs to change to support what business is trying to achieve in the global market place.”
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post earlier this year, David Cruickshank, the chairman of accountancy giant Deloitte, called on the Government to urgently clarify what needed to be done with Europe in order to provide a more certain future for UK plc.
He said the referendum in 2017 could stoke fears that the UK will become marginalised in Europe and deter overseas investors from setting up new manufacturing sites, research and development facilities and coordination centres in the UK.
The CBI declined to comment.