Graham Mackenzie’s departure this year as director general of the Engineering Employers’ Federation will mark the end of a 10-year transition period for the EEF a transition Mackenzie helped set in motion.
It was back in 1989 that national wage negotiating for the engineering industry came to an end. The EEF, which had represented the employers’ side in the wage talks, suddenly found itself without a job.
Mackenzie, then a main board member of TI Group, chaired an EEF committee which later produced the so-called Mackenzie Report setting out a new role for the EEF, allowing it to use its strong regional network as well as creating a sensible focus for its London offices.
That document set the agenda for much of the work Mackenzie has been overseeing at the EEF since becoming president in 1992 (while still chief executive of engineering steelmaker UES), and then director general in November 1993. The basic structure has carried out a dual role: lobbying politicians in Westminster and Brussels, and providing services for the organisation’s 5,400 member companies, delivered mainly from the EEF’s regional centres.
Mackenzie also moved to create a leaner organisation, setting a target in 1994 to reduce the operating deficit by half, to £500,000, within five years. This target was achieved ahead of schedule last year, following a series of cost-cutting measures, including the closure and sale of two properties in Dartmouth Street, London. Income from investments typically offsets the operating losses at the EEF, and this surplus after taxation jumped from £586,000 in 1996 to £987,000 in 1997, according to latest figures.
The influence of a lobbying organisation such as the EEF is difficult to measure, but its profile remains high compared with most other manufacturing lobbying groups. Its quarterly economic survey and half-yearly employment review and economic forecasts are now timed, like many similar surveys, to coincide with the week of the interest rate deliberations of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee.
The EEF is also becoming involved in more joint statements and submissions with other groups. The most recent is its Budget submission, prepared with 16 other engineering and manufacturing trade bodies.
A more ambitious project is the planned industry advertising campaign, prepared jointly with the Engineering Council and the Engineering and Marine Training Association (EMTA). It will include TV advertising to attract teenagers to engineering disciplines. The EEF’s industry contacts have been used to approach big engineering companies for high-level corporate sponsorship of up to £1m over five years.
But although the chairmen of most of the target companies are listed among the EEF’s vice presidents, at the time of going to press no major sponsors had committed themselves.
Whether the campaign goes ahead or not, further joint programmes look likely. Some within the EEF believe the scope of the organisation could be expanded to encompass the whole of the manufacturing sector, setting the organisation up as a powerful voice and as a natural counterpoint to the CBI. Some insiders believe the CBI is too dominated by the services and retail sectors a problem that surfaced when trying to create a strong message in support of manufacturing at a time, last year, when the service sector of the economy appeared to be overheating.
The EEF will also be aiming to spread its influence by infiltrating devolved regional political power bases in the UK and Brussels. The launch of the Regional Development Agencies in April will create a new focus for EEF to promote business imperatives in the regions, and prevent the RDAs from ‘getting bogged down in local planning issues at the expense of sensible inward investment policies’, as one insider puts it.
At the same time the services themselves, on offer through the EEF’s regional associations, are set to become more streamlined and offer better value for money.
Mackenzie’s successor who is almost certain to be drawn from industry will inherit an organisation that already has a much more clear-cut role than the EEF Mackenzie knew 10 years ago.