Community: You can’t make a recovery without manufacturing

Roy Rickhuss

On July 8th, Rishi Sunak delivered his summer economic update to parliament. The measures announced were most notable for what they left out. In a speech of over 3,000 words, the Chancellor did not make a single mention of our manufacturing sector. Yet as we enter what looks like a severe recession, we need high-quality manufacturing jobs with good pay and conditions more than ever.

Investing in manufacturing creates thousands of jobs further up the supply chain, in secondary industries and in associated services. Workers in manufacturing are some of most productive in the UK, 12% higher than the UK average in Q3 of 2019. Each worker in manufacturing produces far more than workers in most other sectors. That level of productivity is what Britain needs, and the wealth it creates is what our schools and hospitals need to thrive. Manufacturing is also the part of the economy where most innovation happens. In 2018, 65% of spending on research and development was spent in manufacturing, for a total of £16.3bn. Innovation and research are crucial for future prosperity in the UK.

Manufacturing is not dead: the UK is currently the ninth largest manufacturing nation in the world. But our government has failed over many years to acknowledge the importance of the sector and the wealth that it generates. Manufacturing covers a wide range of sectors: from foundational industries, such as steel and textiles, to the manufacturing of machinery and equipment. Each of these plays its own role in allowing us to supply the things that the people of Britain need. That is something Community and the other steel unions have emphasised in our ‘Britain, we need our steel’ campaign. We must ensure that crucial foundational materials can be sourced within our shores to protect us from international volatility and ensure that high-quality materials are available.

The UK needs a renaissance for manufacturing; for our government to recognise how important it is that we make things in the UK, and open opportunities for the sector to grow. Not only are manufacturing jobs high-quality but making the goods we need here protects us from over-reliance on fragile international supply chains. It was notable that during the Covid-19 crisis we had to import personal protective equipment from Turkey because we were unable to make it ourselves in enough volume. Without manufacturing, the UK is vulnerable in a crisis.

Manufacturing has been badly hit by the coronavirus crisis, and although many manufacturers continued to operate throughout the crisis, many of them have lost orders. The government needs to ensure that support is made available to these important businesses to ensure that they are not casualties of the forthcoming downturn. 

There are some steps that we can take. The government needs to prioritise the manufacturing sector and ensure that it receives economic recovery stimulus. The government should implement measures that will help stimulate demand for manufactured goods in the UK and supply low cost loans to aid the manufacturing sector to invest in innovation.

We also need to continue the long history of apprenticeships and training in the sector. We know that by giving our young people the skills to get high quality manufacturing job, they will succeed. If the government is serious about apprenticeships, manufacturing industries are some of the best places for young people to learn their trades. The government should look to create an ‘Academy for Industry’ to bring the next generation into these sectors. 

Finally, the government should position manufacturing as a vital part of a plan for a green recovery. In his statement, the Chancellor emphasised the need for new green jobs – but the jobs he envisages seem only to be related to fitting insulation to existing homes and building. Whilst that is a major step, decarbonisation requires us to think bigger. It means investment in electric cars, wind turbines and green energy generation technology.

The Chancellor’s plans fall far short of the measures required. This was a missed opportunity to allow the UK to lead the world in green manufacturing. We have seen repeatedly the short-sightedness of not supporting those businesses which will be integral to future flourishing. The recent mothballing of the Orb Steel plant, with its capacity to produce electrical steel that powers green technology is just one example.  The government must push manufacturing much higher up the agenda – for the sake of high-quality jobs, innovation and security in an increasingly uncertain world.

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