UK manufacturers demand more support from government

Manufacturers’ confidence in the government has fallen sharply in the past year, according to a survey by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Many firms doubt the government's commitment to manufacturing

IMechE polled manufacturers from among its membership, which includes thousands of engineers working in lighting companies, as well as a sample of the general public.

Only 19 per cent of manufacturers believe government policy is helping the sector – down from 23 per cent since IMechE’s last survey in 2011.

Confidence in the government’s commitment to creating a more balanced economy by growing the manufacturing sector fell from 35 to 31 per cent. The picture was even worse among the general public, where the number who believed the government was committed to growing manufacturing plummeted from 49 to 26 per cent.

An economy in which manufacturing played a bigger part would be stronger and more resilient to recession, IMechE says, but the vast majority of manufacturers still believe that the government is more committed to the financial sector than to manufacturing – and more than half of the public agrees.

When asked what incentives and support would be most helpful to them, manufacturers called for changes to the taxation system. Rising energy costs and the Eurozone crisis were also high on their list of concerns.

Commenting on the survey findings, IMechE said: ‘The government is in a difficult position. For the UK to prosper in the future, we need to cut our deficit. However, cutting the deficit is only one part of the process. We must prune areas where cuts can be made, but we cannot let industries starve… More direct actions and policy incentives may cost the Treasury today, but will pay dividends many times over in the future.’

Eddie Taylor, joint chief executive of the Lighting Industry Association (LIA) told Lux: ‘The LIA supports the view that the government could encourage more UK-based R&D and manufacturing, which would in turn lead to job creation and more UK exporting potential. The lighting industry has a healthy manufacturing base, particularly in luminaires and lighting solutions and our members will continue to develop that. However there is no doubt that the government, working closely with the industry, could develop more targeted incentives to encourage this, perhaps combined with more promotion of UK-based manufacturing towards targeted export markets.

‘The government also wishes to further develop Britain as a leading green economy. Given the importance of lighting to the green agenda this again emphasises the importance of targeted incentives to promote the growth of these areas by way of R&D support, tax breaks and export initiatives.’

At the opening of a new facility by British Electric Lamps (Bell) in Normanton, West Yorkshire last month, Labour MP Yvette Cooper criticised government calls for businesses to stop complaining and work harder. ‘Normanton companies like Bell are doing a good job, and having to work even harder because the government has pushed us back into recession,’ Cooper said.

A spokesman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills told Lux: ‘Government fully recognises the importance of manufacturing and its vital contribution to the growth of a more sustainable UK economy, which is why it remains central to the strategy for growth.’

The department said it was working to strengthen the sector through programmes such as the £2.4 billion Regional Growth Fund, the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative and the Manufacturing Advisory Service, and tackling outdated perceptions of the industry among young people.

IMechE’s telephone survey was conducted on behalf of IMechE by MSS Research and ICM in April among 1,000 engineers and 1,000 members of the public.

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