It’s fair to say that in the corridors of Westminster the business of manufacturing tends to fall in and out of fashion depending on the economic weather and the enthusiasm of those concerned.
When times are tough, manufacturers – tangible wealth creators with a dynamic story to tell – are feted by politicians. When things are more settled, affections seem to cool.
It’s a pattern that’s been repeated in the period since the last general election with the ever-present Vince Cable giving way to Sajid Javid, a business secretary who didn’t even deliver a major industry address until he’d been in the job for several months.
However, in the aftermath of last month’s momentous “Brexit” vote, it’s vital that manufacturing – which accounts for more than a quarter of the UK’s GDP and half of its exports – is at the centre of the decision-making process. And as politicians attempt to chart a course through the uncertain months ahead it is critical that industry works closely with government to ensure that the UK retains access to the tariff-free markets and global skills base essential to its growth and survival.
Given that we don’t currently have a functioning government, it’s hard to say whether the current administration is even capable of listening
So far positive steps have been taken to ensure that these arguments are heard. Yesterday, in a welcome show of unity, the Royal Academy of Engineering announced it was joining forces with the UK’s 38 different engineering institutions to present a united front to support and advise the UK government on negotiations.
But industry is going to need to dig its heels in to get a deal that works. Indeed, at last month’s SMMT summit, leaders from the UK’s buoyant automotive sector, whilst ruling out any knee-jerk reaction to Brexit, refused to even speculate on the consequences for the UK of a hard exit from the EU.
Is government listening? Given that we don’t currently have a functioning government, it’s hard to say whether the current administration is even capable of listening, but the early signs are that there is at least an appetite for dialogue. Indeed, making a rare public appearance at the SMMT’s event, Javid explicitly called on industry to flag its concerns and pledged to do his best to secure a settlement that works for industry.
We should all make sure that he and his colleagues are under no illusions about the challenges that lie ahead.