Fighting to raise the profile

Engineers have an uphill task to persuade people with influence of the importance of the sector to the UK economy.

We all spend a lot of time listening to politicians telling us what we should be doing, so there is a certain satisfaction when the roles are reversed.

Getting a collection of ministers, MPs, peers of the realm and other movers and shakers together in a room for some good old-fashioned lobbying isn’t easy. Everybody wants to bend their ears on every conceivable subject, from the lack of local swimming pools to restrictions on the sale of exotic pets.

With this in mind, The Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA) and its friends at the Engineering and Machinery Alliance are to be congratulated for persuading a good number of the above to attend a reception at the House of Lords last week.

The evening allowed members of the organisations to remind their constituency MPs and others of the importance of engineering and manufacturing to their local economies and, indeed, the national economy as a whole.

It was a job well done, but everyone is aware that raising the profile of engineering, technology and manufacturing is a marathon rather than a sprint.

For example, many of the MPs who attended the event are likely to be the very ones who need least convincing of their importance.

The fact that they bothered to turn up at all indicates they understand that safeguarding a technology-based economy is a prize worth fighting for.

This does not in any way negate the value of the exercise, but one wonders how to reach the members who did not attend.

Then, of course, there are the people with the real power to make things happen, namely ministers and secretaries of state.

Margaret Hodge, the industry minister, attended the reception. Her speech was a list of Labour achievements — as she would have it — in the manufacturing technology sector and some soothing words for the assembled guests.

One of our better political journalists always maintains that you can judge the innocuousness of a politician’s speech by imagining the outrage that would be caused if they said the exact reverse. The more outcry provoked by the mirror image, the more innocuous the real thing. It’s an interesting exercise.

For example, ‘we are committed to manufacturing’s role’ becomes ‘we don’t really care if the Chinese take every last order on your books.’ And ‘you are a major provider of valuable, highly-skilled jobs’ turns into ‘there’s plenty of work at Burger King whatever happens to you lot’.

In other words, the things a politician has to say on subjects such as this are not necessarily untrue or insincere but they can hardly say anything else.

Here is how we will all know when the battle to raise the profile of engineering and technology has been won.

It will be won the day that prospects, ambitions and achievements of our engineers and scientists are picked over with the same relish as City bankers, high street retailers and, may God help us, estate agents.

Andrew Lee