Five of the UK’s biggest manufacturing trade bodies are to pool resources to create a new industrial alliance representing more than 10,000 companies. But the move has left out one organisation — the Machine Tool Technologies Association — that had been expecting to be in on the new group from the start.
The new alliance will draw together researchers, strategists and economists from across its five member organisations in a bid to outgun the government’s own advisers and force a change in attitudes to manufacturing within Westminster. It will also be able to use the broader membership base to add clout to its message.
Organisations planning to take part in the new alliance represent some of the biggest sectors of manufacturing in the UK economy: the Engineering Employers’ Federation, with more than 5,000 manufacturing companies represented, is the largest, and its director general Martin Temple has been one of the leaders in the talks that have put the alliance together.
The EEF is joined by the Society of British Aerospace Companies, UK Steel, the Chemical Industries Association, and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Two further organisations may also become involved at a later date — representing the electronics and construction products sectors.
But the absence of the MTTA has come as a surprise, not least to the organisation itself, which had until recently been working with the EEF on the alliance project and believed it would be included from the outset. This was mainly on the strength of its contributions to previous joint economic research projects with the EEF over recent years — exactly the kind of projects envisaged for the new alliance.
A spokesman for the EEF said that between the five member organisations of the alliance, there were no plans to expand the group at this stage. ‘The key point was the desire to keep it simple and small. There is no rift or split with the MTTA. We want to work with them, and discuss how their interests will be taken account of within the new group.’
Those who are set to become part of the alliance are still talking through details of how it will work, with some trying to allay fears expressed by members that their own organisation’s identities could be diluted.
‘There has been a certain level of resistance to getting too close,’ said a spokesman for the SBAC. ‘Many of our members see themselves as working in the knowledge industries or systems integration, rather than in engineering. There is a bit of reluctance to sharing common interests with the steel industry.’
But supporters of the alliance say it is more about pooling expertise on common issues — such as climate change, the economy, or health and safety legislation — rather than diluting the focus of member organisations which will continue to speak for specific sectoral issues.
The creation of the alliance follows repeated requests from government that trade organisations move more closely together. A DTI official has been seconded to act as a liaison between the five groups.
The alliance highlights the fact that many companies are members of more than one of these groupings. Many aerospace companies, for example, are also members of the EEF, while a sizeable number are members of the Federation of the Electronics Industries.
While the current basis of the alliance is to co-operate on specific projects, the longer-term aims remain open-ended. One option could be to share central services and reduce overheads.
Comment: Why has the MTTA been left out in the cold?
Putting together major trade associations to speak as one on matters of common interest makes a lot of sense. However, if you are going to create an exclusive club, the matter of membership policy is a sensitive one.
Automotive, aerospace, chemicals, steel, and engineering — the members of the new alliance — do offer a broader coverage of the whole economy than any one of them alone. However, this alliance should be about more than just demographics.
The Machine Tool Technologies Association has been left out because, officially, it is too small in size, and is not a recognisable sector. However, that misses the point. The MTTA punches above its weight, mainly because it has a relatively strong income stream from its biennial show. It spends a good part of this money producing influential research reports (often with the EEF and others) and forging close contacts with Westminster and Whitehall to make sure they are seen by the right people: in short, exactly the kind of activities planned by the new alliance.
Next month is a case in point, when the MTTA will co-host the launch of a ‘manufacturing manifesto’ document at the Commons, setting out an agenda on industry for the next government. It is a co-signatory to the document along with UK Steel, the SBAC, and the EEF.
It is easy to see why the MTTA believed it would form an integral part of a new alliance featuring organisations like them, writing reports like this, and setting up events of this nature. It is also easy to see why not being part of it has left them feeling more than a little bitter.
The next step should be to mend fences. It would be wasteful for the new alliance to turn its back on the contribution the MTTA is capable of making. But to work together, some relationships will have to be rebuilt. Increasingly, trade associations will only provide value for money for members if they can agree to work together.