British industry held back by “flip-flopping” Conservative government decisions

Britain’s manufacturing leaders have given a damning verdict on a decade of “flip-flopping” by Conservative governments and demanded a non-partisan industrial strategy established by a royal commission and overseen by a council independent of ministers.

The industrial and manufacturing employers body Make UK will warn today that without a new industrial policy companies will remain at a competitive disadvantage and see investment sucked away to the United States and the European Union.

Stepping into the void to be a voice for business created by the implosion of the CBI, Make UK accuses the government of hindering industry.

“A lack of a proper, planned industrial strategy is the UK’s Achilles heel,” said Stephen Phipson, chief executive of the body formerly known as the Engineering Employers’ Federation, which speaks for 20,000 manufacturers from multinationals to start-ups.

“Every other major economy, from Germany to China to the US, has a long-term national manufacturing plan [underlining] the importance of an industrial base to the success of its wider economy. The UK is the only country to not have one.

“We cannot keep flip-flopping from one initiative to another without setting these in the context of a long-term, wider plan, which has consensus and is independently monitored.”

A report by Make UK after consultation with 312 industrial leaders found a sector that believes that successive Conservative administrations have failed to deliver “a robust vision” for manufacturing. It has left the country short of the technical and management skills required to deliver innovation, the green transition and industrial digitalisation and to face up to the challenges and opportunities created by artificial intelligence.

It says that if the UK reacts in kind to the green industrial revolution commitments of the $370 billion US Inflation Reduction Act and the response of the EU, the prize would be a rebuilding of the UK manufacturing sector back to 15 per cent of the national economy, from 10 per cent at present.

In the absence of a plan from Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt, Make UK has produced its own template for an industrial strategy. It calls for a royal commission to agree industrial and economic ambitions and produce goals and targets, a framework that would create “a stable environment to invest, access talent and grow business”.

That would then give way to an independent Industry Strategy Council to monitor the implementation and co-ordination of policy delivered at the heart of government by the Cabinet Office rather than the business department, which should be stripped of the role.

In an article for The Times today Phipson, a former senior civil servant, says that successive governments have been hooked on “short-term quick fixes”, which have impeded economic development.

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