“We have not valued our manufacturing base as well as we should in the past. We have focused on other industries and we have neglected manufacturing,” said Baldry.
“Food manufacturing is one of the significant players within that and we should be doing what we can to encourage resurgence of the indigenous manufacturing base within Great Britain and within that food and drink as a major player.”
Baldry’s remarks were echoed by Paul Grimwood, chairman and ceo of Nestlé UK, speaking at a parliamentary reception at the House of Commons on Monday [June 25] organised by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).
Grimwood, who is also vice president of the FDF and chairman of its competitiveness steering group, spoke of the considerable contribution that the food sector was making to the UK economy.
£76.2bn worth of turnover
“We continue to outperform other manufacturing sectors through this rather significant downturn that we find ourselves in. So much so that for the UK economy we are now at the point of delivering £76.2bn worth of turnover,” remarked Grimwood.
“We directly employ over 400,000 people and indirectly employ 1.2M, which is extremely significant.”
Grimwood also spoke of the shared vision between the industry and government announced last December to deliver 20% growth in the sector by 2020.
“That’s ambitious, but we are confident with the entrepreneurial drive of our members and with the right policy framework from government that we can actually achieve that objective,” he added.
“We need to make sure that we deliver a strategy that drives that continued growth through the Food and Drink Export Action Plan.”
The FDF recently announced that it had achieved its seventh continuous year of export growth, with food and drink exports breaking the £12bn barrier for the first time, representing 11.4% year-on-year growth.
Grimwood, raised the widespread concern within the sector that skills shortages could prevent the sector from achieving its growth ambitions.
“To deliver sustainable growth we require highly talented, highly trained engineers to develop solutions in our universities and in our factories,” he said. “There is now a great deal of evidence which shows that the improvements in productivity are being held back by the lack of engineering and technical capability.”
Baldry also called on government to work closely with the industry to encourage more students to embark on “exciting careers” within the food and drink manufacturing industry.
“How do we build the right skills that we are going to need through our universities and our schools to enable us to have the right talent within our business and to be world class?” he added.
In response to this the FDF is behind a new “lighthouse project” to work with a partner university, sector skills council Improve and the National Skills Academy to develop the first food manufacturing degree course in the country.
“Our ambition is to provide a leading centre of excellence for food engineering that will produce graduates that are exemplary engineers, who can stand shoulder to shoulder with any engineers based in aerospace, automotive or the energy sectors,” said Grimwood.
* See the July issue of Food Manufacture for an interview with Simon Baldry.