Union leaders have called on the government to appoint a `manufacturing czar’ to promote the `old economy’ sectors of UK industry in the wake of the crisis facing Rover and the continued strength of sterling.
The move would be designed to provide a champion for policy that would be more favourable to manufacturing, across all government departments, following the pattern set by the appointment of an e-business envoy and a `drugs czar’.
The initiative has been put forward by Sir Ken Jackson, general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, in talks with trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers at the Scottish Trades Union Congress last week. AEEU officials believe that a strong voice lobbying for manufacturing, with the backing of the Prime Minister, would provide a short cut to convincing other parts of the government machine, such as the Treasury, of the importance of the wealth-creating sectors of the economy.
The government has already signalled its preoccupation with new start-up and internet-driven firms as a focus for technology and support, causing resentment among many in more `traditional’ sectors that remain at the forefront of technology and export earnings.
But in an interview with The Engineer earlier this year, Byers said manufacturing’s share of the UK economy, at around 19% of GDP, is as low as it should go. `I don’t think it can go much below that without there being an unbalanced economy,’ he said (Cover feature, 11 February).
The AEEU’s call for a manufacturing `czar’ to address the problem has received mixed support. A spokesman for the Engineering Employers’ Federation described it as `tending towards gesture politics’.
`One person can’t change the situation overnight, though they could possibly provide a focus,’ he said. `But the events with Rover at Longbridge and fears over the future of Dagenham already mean that the government’s attention is being forced onto the wealth-creating parts of the economy.’
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