Greg Wright: An ignorance of manufacturing has led to current crisis
That was certainly a promising introduction. It’s nice to know the PM is concerned about my bank balance, although Mr Cameron does seem to have spent a lot of time in the last week explaining some of the finer details of his own finances.
The email was, of course, a piece of mass electioneering aimed at persuading voters that the Conservatives have looked after the interests of us all by working to clear the deficit, grow the economy and create jobs.
In particular, Mr Cameron’s email trumpeted the fact that the Tories had taken almost four million of the lowest paid out of income tax by raising the personal allowance.
The message assured me that the Government was on course to fulfil its commitment of raising the personal allowance to £12,500 by 2020.
Many people will welcome the fact that more low paid workers will be able to keep their hard-earned cash. But what sort of jobs are available to people on the lowest incomes who want to progress? What is needed is a detailed industrial strategy to provide a route into skilled, long-term jobs for people who are currently trapped in low paid, insecure work.
This strategy is sadly lacking. The obsession with financial and professional services has sucked the life-blood out of large sections of our economy. Since the de-industrialisation process of the 1980s, skilled working class jobs, which offered the prospect of long-term employment, have, to a large extent, been replaced with insecure jobs in the service sector.
For decades, manufacturing has been neglected by policymakers, largely, I suspect because many in Whitehall have a hopelessly outdated view of the sector.
The warning bell has been sounding for some time. It brings back memories of the day I met Tim Smit, who is the driving force behind the Eden Project in Cornwall, and a passionate supporter of manufacturing.
Back in 2007, when the financial services sector was seen as inviolable, Mr Smit told me that most bankers he’d met didn’t have a clue about business.
He added: “I think this country has been completely let down by the lack of support for manufacturing.
“These guys in Government talk about Britain needing to look to its future as a service industry. Servicing what? If the Pacific Rim invents things, they are going to work out very nicely how to service everything themselves and we are going to become a real second class place.”
Almost a decade later, Mr Smit’s comments still ring true. The steel industry’s plight underlines his concerns.
A study from the manufacturers’ organisation, the EEF, found that three quarters of UK manufacturers are struggling to recruit skilled staff.
There is an air of anger and exasperation in the recent public statements from the EEF.
The EEF said the number of hard-to-fill vacancies in manufacturing remains “static and stubbornly high” at 35 per cent, despite the Government’s apparent desire for an export-led recovery.
As Andy Tuscher, the regional director at the EEF observed, nothing has changed over the last four years, despite multiple warnings about the yawning skills gap.
Too many manufacturers can’t find people with the right skills, which means opportunities are being wasted.
The EEF is telling the Government to get a grip and confront this challenge.
For a start, the EEF wants the Government to scrap the proposed immigration skills charge and introduce grants to tackle under-representation in apprenticeships.
Much as I am touched by Mr Cameron’s concern for my finances, I feel his energies would be better spent listening to some home truths from our manufacturers, who have been ignored by policymakers for too long.