TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, former Conservative deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine, former Labour transport secretary Lord Adonis and md of precision engineering firm JJ Churchill Andrew Churchill yesterday (Thursday, January 10) shared a platform at the TUC’s London headquarters to call on government to develop a coherent vision for UK industry.
Guests at the ‘Building a secure future: a new industrial policy’ debate heard that while the UK is still the seventh largest global manufacturer, for every new manufacturing job in the country, two are created in service-based sectors.
O’Grady said it was vital the UK economy was re-aligned – and urged government to adopt a more “activist and interventionist” industrial strategy to encourage growth.
“We need a bold industrial policy that nurtures a strong manufacturing base and generates good, skilled jobs across the country and in the cities that need it most,” she said.
“Industrial policy has become a dirty word as we have bet the house on the City. At the end of the boom in 2007, UK bankers invested 17 times more in buying derivatives from each other than they did in UK manufacturing.”
Heseltine, who last year published a government-commissioned report on industrial policy, No Stone Unturned, said a “broad consensus” was developing across traditional party lines for a wider industrial strategy.
However, he took a different tone to O’Grady, emphasising the need for the UK to entice the “footloose international investment community” by “creating the conditions that are right for them to come here”.
The Tory grandee, dubbed Tarzan by the media, was on more common ground with the TUC when he urged government to take a regional approach to industrial policy planning, instead of a top-down agenda driven by Whitehall.
“We need to give localities the chance to bid for money to get strategies that are place-based. My experience is that there is significant gearing to be gained from it,” he said.
His views were echoed by Adonis who said it would take a concerted effort to overcome a “century of Whitehall centralisation” – and urged support for directly-elected mayors “who could provide strong economic leadership”.
Churchill, whose Warwickshire firm employs 150 people, said government had to take the same approach to industry as bosses did to business planning.
In order to get financial support, he said he had to show the banks he had a long-term vision, show company-wide commitment to it and provide clear leadership – three things that the government needed to harness in an industrial policy.
But while government needed to provide the strategic vision, he said “businesses had the responsibility to stand up and drive it at a local level”.
The debate was the first in a year-long After Austerity event series organised by the TUC to debate the policy changes needed to promote growth.
Watch out next week for our exclusive podcast with Tim Page, TUC industrial policy expert, on why food manufacturing just isn’t trendy enough.