Will ministers go on supporting UK manufacturing?
Posted on 30 July 2014
Earlier this week I visited Rosti’s factory in Pickering, North Yorkshire, to see the fruits of a near £14m investment programme backed by the moulder's Swedish owners, Nordstjernan.
Now I wasn’t the only person there. I reckon there were at least 80 guests present from across the plastics industry, the automotive sector – mainly from Rosti’s strategic customer Jaguar Land Rover – and suppliers. Oh, and Vince Cable, the business secretary.
The Pickering site has undergone a lot of work in the last few months, with new buildings going up and a new paint shop being created. It was all pretty impressive. Certainly Vince Cable seemed impressed. Speaking after we had all been shown round the expanded plant the minister pointed to Rosti’s efforts as evidence of the resurgence of UK manufacturing, particularly in the area of automotive activity.
The UK is a booming market when it comes to both car production and sales. Overseas companies have recognised that we are now a centre of excellence in this area. Cable told the tale of how he met with senior management from General Motors a while back and managed to persuade them to invest in the UK rather than Germany.
The business secretary also spoke of the government’s commitment to a long term industrial strategy and how he wanted to see this happen, that happen, and so on.
I know ministers have got to talk like this; after all, it’s part of the political discourse – and besides, a minister is hardly going to say anything different. But with a general election less than a year away I couldn’t help wondering if Cable genuinely believes he will still be in a position to shape and influence the policy which he outlined.
And while cable will harbour inevitable ambitions there is a distrust of politicians like never before. Yet we need people to participate in government. And parliamentary candidates get elected because we either believe in what they say they will do once in power, or because alternative candidates are just too awful a proposition.
The problem starts when once elected politicians forget that they are our employees. Yes, they have to forge things like an industrial policy, just as they have to organise the defence of the country, invest in public services, ensure its laws are fair and so on.
But the transitory nature of governments means that unless they get a good run at it things are likely to change as administrations come and go, and often not always for the better. Industrial policy is just one area that can be subjected to ideological shifts when power changes hands.
I think the outcome of the election is too close to call. But whoever wins next May it is to be hoped that the current support for UK manufacturing remains high up on the victor’s agenda.
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