New adviser warns Beckett

by Paul Dempsey

Industrialist threatens to quit if competitiveness forum is not taken seriously.

An industrialist newly appointed to the Government’s Advisory Group on Competitiveness says he will quit if the panel becomes ‘little more than a benchmarking exercise or a talk shop’.

Dr Tony Marchington, chief executive of biotechnology firm Oxford Molecular, issued the warning after criticism of the group’s ability to influence the Department of Trade and Industry.

‘I am aware that many executives think this will be a load of waffle. Certainly, the DTI does not have a great track record and, for small and medium enterprises and high-tech firms like mine, I would quantify its more recent contributions as less than zero,’ he said. ‘Before my name went forward, I insisted on assurances that this would be a fundamental review leading to basic actions and the creation of a framework that will make British industry more competitive. We need to stimulate cultural change.’

Marchington said that meetings with the trade and industry secretary Margaret Beckett had convinced him that Labour was taking the project seriously.

‘If we do not see results, they will find I am not making an empty threat,’ he said.

‘I do not think that any of the group’s other members will keep backing it if it is going nowhere – these people will not waste their time.’

The 20-strong group includes Bryan Sanderson, BP’s managing director; Sir Richard Evans, British Aerospace chief executive, and Ian Gibson, managing director of Nissan.

The DTI last week sought to maintain the competitiveness agenda by issuing proposals for Regional Competitiveness Indicators for use by the new regional development agencies.

The draft data suggests that while output and GDP is rising across the nation, the more powerful areas are still proportionally as far ahead of those below.