The decision that could potentially see the UK leave the EU would have a big impact on manufacturing jobs and overseas trading, EEF chief executive Terry Scuoler said.
“It is disappointing that the mood music on immigration continues to concern businesses who require access to critical skills from overseas,” he said.
“Maintaining the UK’s role at the heart of a reformed EU is absolutely critical for our prosperity and businesses will want reassurance that any future Conservative government will campaign strongly on this basis.
Must highlight EU benefits
“Pursuing key trade deals with our European partners and making the EU work better are vital and are key issues that must be highlighted as benefits of membership in any referendum.”
Cameron announced plans to more than double the number of apprenticeships created from 2M since 2010. If the Conservative party wins the general election this year it will aim to create 3M new apprentices.
But industry-led initiatives that focused on home-grown talent should be complemented by widening the talent pool to include skills from overseas, Scuoler claimed.
“For the UK to truly compete in the global talent race businesses need access to world-class skills,” he said.
“The decision to maintain the cap on skilled non-EU workers and, further reforms to the student visa route, goes against this and will cause great frustration amongst employers.”
Terry Scuoler, chief executive, EEF
“While putting the public finances on a sound footing is rightly the first step on this journey, the big prize has to be tackling our longstanding weak levels of investment and poor productivity, which are areas we have not heard enough about from all main parties to date.
“If the purpose of the manifesto was, however, to provide stability for business about the direction of travel on boosting trade, support for investment in skills, innovation and investment in infrastructure then it has provided a step towards that.”
Scuoler said he was also disappointed the Conservative Party had not committed to establishing an Office of Resource Management.
Such a measure would have brought the UK in line with other strong manufacturing nations, which already have strategies in place to shield their economies from resource risks, he claimed.
EEF has previously called for an Office of Resource Management to combat escalating risks to the UK’s supply of essential raw materials such as platinum, rare earths and niobium. These can only be sourced from a limited number of places and are hard to substitute and difficult to recycle.
It did, however, welcome the Conservative pledge to cut emissions, resist further interventions in the energy market and to oppose power sector decarbonisation targets.
“Much of the current climate change policy landscape is inefficient and ineffective at achieving aims, a renewed focus on cost effectiveness can only be a good thing,” Scuoler said.
“It is therefore somewhat confusing to see a promise to end further support for onshore wind, one of the most cost effective forms of low carbon energy. Such a policy would virtually guarantee consumers end up paying more for energy than necessary.”
Plans to commit to road works and high speed railways lines would be welcomed by manufacturers as the road network is the backbone of the industry, Scuoler said.
“It is crucial, however, that greater levels of investment in infrastructure is not seen as a proxy for job done,” he added.
“A long-term approach based on identifying all infrastructure challenges is needed to ensure infrastructure that supports growth and productivity. On this long-term approach the Conservative manifesto is silent.”
Meanwhile, the Confederation of Business Industry said progress had been made in cutting the deficit over this Parliament, and the Conservative Party’s clear plans to continue the path of deficit reduction were welcome.
“Business will want clarity over how manifesto commitments will be funded,” John Cridland, CBI director general, said.
“The Conservative manifesto includes a number of pro-growth measures, such as investing in infrastructure, creating a competitive tax environment, and boosting skills. And business is clear: our membership of a reformed European Union is also critical to our economic future.”
“The EU is our biggest export market and remains fundamental to our economic future. A referendum on membership is a matter for the government and the British people. But most businesses are clear that our economic future is best served by remaining within a reformed EU and working with our allies to achieve this.”
The Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association said the Conservative manifesto was lukewarm at best on support for the green economy.
“Anaerobic digestion has enormous potential to support rural employment, improve our energy security and reduce carbon emissions," ADBA’s chief executive, Charlotte Morton said. “Our industry grew by 500% in the last parliament – developers and investors are ready to continue that growth, but need clear support for renewable energy and resource management to do so.”