Engineering union boss Sir Ken Jackson this week said the Treasury was the biggest obstacle standing in the way of policy to aid British manufacturing industry. And he reiterated his calls for a ‘manufacturing minister’ to be appointed within the Department of Trade and Industry.
In an interview with The Engineer, Jackson, general secretary of the AEEU, said the blame for the pitiful state of UK infrastructure should be laid at the door of the Treasury. ‘They are the ones who have been leaning on industry for the past 30 years,’
he said. ‘The Treasury is a major stumbling block. It’s great to have a prudent chancellor, but he has got to get it across to the Treasury that they’re here to help British industry, not crucify it.’
Jackson said that a catalogue of what he termed ‘horror stories’ over job losses at Dagenham and Rolls-Royce, and the risk of investment cutbacks at all the Japanese-owned car makers in the UK were bringing the problem to a head.
‘I don’t think any government including this one — which I totally support — wants that kind of problem as we go into the run-up to the next general election.’We have to look up and say that collectively we can find a solution. We are in this together.’
Jackson, one of the most pro-single currency union bosses in the UK, and a firm government supporter, said there was no quick fix to manufacturing woes. ‘But we do have this huge budget surplus at the moment, and there is no reason why we should not support manufacturing as they do in France or Germany, in terms of training and skills, as well as investment incentives.’
He said the introduction of 100% capital allowances or more funds for training would be the kind of moves required to raise productivity in the UK. ‘We need incentives or allowances to allow British industry to re-equip and re-tool,’ he said.
Jackson also reiterated his calls for the introduction of a manufacturing minister, working within the DTI, but with a brief to remain focused on manufacturing industry.
He cited as an example Scottish businessman Gus Macdonald who was appointed two years ago by Tony Blair as an unpaid minister for business and industry at the Scottish Office.
‘It’s a question of getting together with the people who have the ideas about how to get things moving,’ he said. ‘It should be someone who could cut through the red tape and put forward an action plan for the regeneration of the regions. It’s in these areas that we need to do something really quickly.