Meet the Minister
Hard Hat Area
London branch members and guests were treated to a visit from representatives from BERR during their January meeting. The Branch President, Roger Peace, had invited and hoped for a Minister, but at short notice he was unable to attend and his department sent along Brian Greenwood, Deputy Director, Sector Knowledge and Innovation and his colleague Keith Avis, Deputy Director, Manufacturing Strategy, both from the Manufacturing, Materials and Environment Unit, both of whom were prepared for a somewhat difficult evening given the current economic climate.
Brian began by making a short presentation to the branch explaining the fact that ‘manufacturing is vitally important’ to the UK, a fact recognised by the government, (3M jobs, half of UK exports). The government reportedly also recognises the difficulties and problems that manufacturing currently faces including redundancies and short time working. He reminded the audience that the government announced £150M of support for manufacturing in 2008. The Department have also developed a 5 point strategy, ‘Manufacturing: New Challenges, New Opportunities’ to support the changing dynamics. Within the strategy there are 24 commitments (this and further related documents are available at http://www.dius.gov.uk/publications/manufacturing.html )
The strategy recognises that exploitation of knowledge and control of IPR will be important in the future and a Manufacturing Technology Centre is being set up in Coventry to further supplement NAMTEC, the latter being funded to support training and links between industry and academia through the Knowledge Transfer Initiative (KTI). The department also maintains regular links with the industry through the Trade Association and that the Metals Forum has been set up to enable industry to inform future policy on such matters as banking, credit, taxation and energy.
In October 2008 the government set up ‘a one stop shop’ for businesses through the business links and MAS (the Manufacturing Advisory Service) whose aim is to enable cost reductions for businesses through improved efficiencies.
The meeting then had the opportunity to question Brian and several topics were discussed. Doug Hills of Maybrey Reliance noted that, in spite of Brian’s assurances, it does not feel to those in manufacturing businesses that they are getting any real help, practical or otherwise, particularly in his own cited case with difficulties sourcing finance for investments in new plant and equipment. Each possible avenue explored seems to lead to another dead end.
Indeed as Patrick Helly, NewPro Foundries, also noted, from the classroom upwards, this country seems to have ‘lost the joy of making things’ and does not celebrate or appreciate our manufacturing heritage. 30 years of neglect have resulted in the UK falling down international tables for knowledge and understanding of maths and science. It was also noted that the numbers of apprentices remains small in the UK and it remains difficult to attract younger people into industry, including the castings industry.
There ensued a vigorous debate during which the relative roles of government and industry were discussed. It was felt by the meeting that in many ways the government interferes too much; it should concentrate on making the ‘big’ decisions, such as energy supply and transport links, (framework and infrastructure) leaving the industry to deal with the detail.
Also as Dr William Griffiths pointed out, the manufacturing sector has felt unsupported and ignored, indeed hindered, for many, many years and it will take more than a credit crunch, a banking crisis and a few words about the ‘importance of manufacturing to the UK’ to convince those involved in manufacturing that the government is really concerned about supporting manufacturing and truly recognising its importance in the vibrant and modern economy.
Delegates were able to take away with them copies of a new booklet, ‘Real help now for people, for businesses’, published in 2009 and available from BERR (document ref: 293038/0109)