Opinion: Manufacturing is a growing sector in the UK and EU membership is vital

manufacturing - Some rights reserved by I-5 Design and ManufactureManufacturing has been something I have been passionate about for years now. When I was MP for Rochdale I helped to set up the all party manufacturing group in the House of Commons and then when I became MEP for the West Midlands region I jointly set up the Manufacturing Forum in the European Parliament. I have represented two areas where manufacturing has been so important. In my view, it is even more relevant today in helping to rebalance the economy and to create jobs.

Manufacturing accounts for 46% of exports and it is a growing sector. In the West Midlands, the region that I represented for twelve and a half years we had a proud tradition of manufacturing. We are now getting that pride back with companies like JCB and Jaguar Land Rover. We are the fastest growing region for exports and account for 7% of UK GDP. Half of exports are from the West Midlands region. Of course Jaguar Land Rover has greatly contributed to that success and has given a much needed boost to the automotive supply chain.

Special praise should be given to Vince Cable in particular for his unswerving commitment to the manufacturing sector. Some of the measures he has been responsible for bringing in, like the Supply Chain Initiative have been extremely helpful.

I am pleased that many of our companies are now reshoring, for too long manufacturers have been outsourcing to other countries. Some of those companies are returning to the UK. Many reasons have been given for this, transportation costs, delays and the average wage in China, for instance, has risen considerably. Whatever the reasons it is good news for UK jobs. One in six UK based manufacturers have brought production back in house in the last three years and others are planning to.We must however continue to get our policies right and only bring in legislation at national or European that is not only proportionate but necessary as well.

The point that has been stressed to me over and over again by companies that I have had contact with, is that continued membership of the European Union is vital. I am on the board of EEF, the Manufacturers’ organisation and a recent survey concluded that 85% of our members wanted to stay within the EU. These are not just large companies but small and medium sized as well. They wanted to see reform as we in the Liberal Democrats do but reform was not conditional on wanting to stay in. We sometimes forget that over 80% of manufacturers secure free trade deals through the EU.

We must now help our manufacturers to build on the success that they have achieved by helping to continue to improve skills training and to build on apprenticeship schemes. We must encourage young people to go into engineering by providing adequate careers advice and make sure we have more physics teachers in schools. We must also provide consistency across Government Departments. Above all we must change the perception of manufacturing and engineering.

Photo by I-5 Design & Manufacture

* Liz Lynne is former MEP for the West Midlands and is a board member of EEF - the Manufacturers’ Organisation.

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  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Apr '14 - 11:38am

    A good article, I think the important point is small and medium sized manufacturing firms supporting the EU, not just big ones. It is the same in financial services – the myth that the EU is only supported by big businesses needs to be broken and it can do by quoting small businesses. It is also good to see a Lib Dem getting behind business and skills.

    On another point: It appears the party is broadly putting its foot down on the party of IN campaign, which I think is a mistake. The Lib Dems should be selling the Lib Dems, not the EU.

  • Backing British manufacturing makes sense. Restoring a manufacturing based economy rather than placing reliance on the financial services “industry” is likely to be more sensible and advantageous in the long run.

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