Mark Prisk, minister of state for business and enterprise, was speaking today at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ 2012 Manufacturing Summit, which had the theme of ‘Making UK manufacturing internationally competitive’.
Asked about the leaked comments of Vince Cable, secretary of state for business, innovation and skills, who claimed that the government lacked a ‘compelling vision’ for rebalancing the UK economy, Prisk said: ‘Well I’m an optimist. Vince is an economist… I think we have all the elements [of a strategy] there.
‘Have we communicated as well [as we could] about a long-term vision? Maybe we haven’t.
‘I think quite naturally government in the last 18 months has had a bit of a challenging environment in which to work and we’ve dealt with the issues right in front of us.
‘I’m always happy to take the view that each year we need to improve on what we do. Whether I would use quite the same language as Vince, who knows.’
In what was perhaps an earlier allusion to this debate, Prisk said: ‘It has been quite a week for manufacturing. The fact that it is highlighted and top of the news is good news. And, yes, there’s a debate and rightly so.’
While keen to stress the centrality of a long-term apprenticeship programme to the government’s manufacturing strategy and overcoming a ‘corrosive view that somehow we’re a post-industrial society’, he also highlighted areas of concern.
‘John Hayes [minister of state for further education, skills and life-long learning] recognises that there is quite a lot of bureaucracy around the way apprenticeships work. What we’ve inherited does seem to be overly complex so he’s working to strip away that red tape and also to put some incentives in to help balance the cost for [small and medium enterprises].’
Prisk added: ‘The prime minister last month announced a second round of the higher apprenticeship fund to drill down into the key sub-sectors and plug some of the gaps: aerospace, land-based engineering, renewable technologies and space industries, all of which have notable gaps.’
He also addressed the issue of the wider status of engineers, and hence the attraction of engineering roles to young people, through the prism of the recently announced Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering: ‘I’m aware that many of you have felt there was a bigger issue here about the status of engineering. I understand that.
‘That’s why we were very pleased to be able to do something across the parties, something that will have a lasting impact, and that’s the establishment of a national prize: the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering. We feel that if this issue of the status of the engineer in the UK is going to be addressed we need to do something that has the right status and the right profile.’
Prisk added: ‘I’m not pretending that it’s going to instantly become the equivalent of a Nobel Prize but I would like to feel that as it develops it will gain that position.’
Perceptions of engineering
Will Butler-Adams, managing director of Brompton Cycles, also commented in his presentation on the debate around perceptions of engineers and engineering.
He said: ‘We [at Brompton] tend to enjoy having quite a lot of fun… To be perfectly honest, when I look at this room and I see us all sitting here, next to no women… old guys, stuffy shirts, you start thinking: “It’s no surprise no one wants to go into this industry.”’
Butler-Adams added: ‘If you’re talking to designers, they have to wander around with trendy shoes… jeans and look like they’re imaginative, clever funky people with weird puffy cushions in the corner. Engineers have crappy, ugly-looking offices with steel desks, but we’re far more imaginative than they are: we’re just not good at telling people.’