Finance and flag-waving

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The Budget dominates this week’s agenda, while the Queen Elizabeth Prize promises to be the jewel in the crown for the engineering world

For some the big event of the week takes place on Wednesday when the chancellor George Osborne makes his Budget speech to the House of Commons.

This is understandable given the prospect of a triple dip recession, the nation’s credit rating being downgraded by Moodys to AA1, and revised GDP data showing a decrease of 0.3 per cent in Q4 compared with the previous quarter.

Certain political figures are calling for an increase in spending on infrastructure and industrial projects by increasing borrowing, while others maintain that Britain can’t borrow its way out of difficulties and should address its deficit as a matter of priority.

No pressure there then.

The Budget should not, however, deflect attention away from some very positive news coming from the engineering sector this week.

This afternoon, for example, The Engineer will be able to reveal the first winner of the Queen Elizabeth Prize – the UK’s attempt to create a Nobel-style international engineering award – when the details are announced at the Royal Academy of Engineering.

It’s difficult to guess who the winner of the £1m prize is likely to be given that engineering is such a broad discipline and that there are no precedents from previous winners to follow.

Officially it will ‘reward and celebrate an individual (or up to three individuals) responsible for a ground-breaking innovation in engineering that has been of global benefit to humanity’.

But the desire to establish the prize as a prestigious international award makes us inclined to think it will go to someone from outside the UK. And for the biggest impact, we can see the judges (which include former Royal Academy of Engineering president Lord Broers and physicist and TV presenter Prof Brian Cox) favouring someone behind a project with very visible benefits that are obvious to most people, perhaps unlike the Millennium Technology Prize that in recent years has gone to the inventor of the dye-sensitized solar cell and the original developers of the Linux computer operating system.

For those on Twitter, you can follow senior reporter Stephen Harris (@swjharris) who will be tweeting live from the announcement.

Today’s event will, in part, attempt to raise the profile of engineering and one area in which the UK excels is aerospace, which today received a boost with the establishment of a £2bn fund to create a UK Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI).

According to trade body ADS, ATI will be led by industry and ‘will bring a single, national focus to research and facilities in the sector.’

This will allow build on the UK sector’s strengths and ensure that R&D investment is made in the right way to win future aircraft programmes.

ADS maintains the investment will support businesses of all sizes and could secure up to 115,000 jobs in the aerospace sector and its supply chain.

Growth opportunities in the nuclear sector are on the agenda tomorrow at the Nuclear New Build Conference and Exhibition in London, which happens to coincide with the expected announcement from government of whether EDF can proceed with the build of a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

Last week the Environment Agency granted the energy company the three main environmental permits required for operating the proposed station.

These items of good news tempered somewhat by dire warnings of skills shortages issued today by Social Market Foundation (SMF).

The cross party think tank has published a report that predicts a 40,000 per year shortage of UK graduates in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sectors. This follows a warning in January this year from Recruitment specialist Randstad CPE, which forecast 36,800 shortfall in qualified engineers by 2050.

SMF found that 40,000 extra STEM graduates a year will be needed to fill the 104,000 graduate-level STEM jobs the economy is predicted to require annually. This, however, is based on the assumption that the numbers of STEM graduates entering other professions stays the same.

Consequently, say SMF, the number of UK STEM graduates each year will have to increase by almost half, and almost a fifth of 21-year-olds will need to enter the engineering profession each year to meet demand in that STEM sector.

In a similar vein, EEF and partners are calling for a national campaign to increase the number of women learning STEM subjects to a professional level, adding that more needs to be done to promote the vocational career route, including apprenticeships.

The call comes on the back of the organisation’s first FTSE 100 Women in Manufacturing Report, which shows that out of the 29 manufacturing firms within the FTSE 100, women account for 19 per cent of board positions.

According to EEF, of the 309 FTSE 100 manufacturing board seats, 59 seats are held by women. Women make up 23 per cent of all non-executive directorships (NEDs) and eight per cent of all executive directorships (EDs) within the manufacturing FTSE 100, which is nearly identical to the entire FTSE 100 where women account for 22 per cent of all NEDs and six per cent of all EDs.

Additional reporting by Stephen Harris.