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Volume 534: debated on Thursday 27 October 2011

As part of rebalancing the British economy, we are taking steps to support manufacturing in the UK by encouraging high levels of business, innovation, investment, exports and technical skills. I set out our strategy for achieving that in a talk to Policy Exchange yesterday.

From recent discussions with several representatives of our largest manufacturing companies, it is apparent that they are now looking actively to bring more UK supply manufacture back to our country, but they seem to question whether some of our small and medium-sized enterprises have sufficient capacity or investment to meet the growth in demand in this area. What can the Government do to help facilitate the right conditions to help some of our SMEs meet this increasing demand?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is a supply chain issue. We are hearing good news from the automobile and aerospace sectors, with the large primes, such as Tata, Rolls-Royce and Airbus, making large investments. However, we also need to attract back the supply chains, which is already happening, particularly in the car industry. We have bodies that co-operate with industry in both those sectors: the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk) chairs one of them and I chair the other. We are therefore working actively with industry to attract the supply chains back to the UK.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the work of the high-value manufacturing technology and innovation centre, which has had a display in Parliament for the past two days, and especially a business in my constituency, Advanced Composites, on the work that it does as part of that? Does he agree with the strategy and aims that it has set out, especially on having a strategy for how we can get manufacturing back to being 20% of gross domestic product by 2020?

Yes, we are fighting a historical trend, because, under the previous Government, and certainly over the past decade, manufacturing contracted as a share of the economy more rapidly than in any other western country and we lost a third of the work force. We have to retrieve that, and one of the main ways of doing so is through promoting innovation. The first innovation centre, as my colleague rightly points out, is the manufacturing technology innovation centre, which has seven campuses. Composites is one of those core technologies being developed, which I very much welcome.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are effectively to support manufacturing, we need to ensure that our future work force have the necessary skills? Will he join me in welcoming the approval of Sandymoor free school in my constituency, which is receiving support from the nearby Daresbury science and innovation campus and which will help to achieve this goal?

Skills are obviously critical, and no doubt my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning will say more about the big increase in the number of apprenticeships shortly. I am sure that the school in my hon. Friend’s constituency will contribute to this at an early stage of development. Apprentices are a real success story and we are certainly going to build on it.

One way to increase manufacturing growth would undoubtedly be for the Business Secretary to turn his attention to Markham Vale. I cadged about £32 million off the then Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour Government to flatten the pit tips and build a vast industrial estate straight off junction 29A on the M1, and what has happened? There have been grey, miserable clouds hanging over Markham Vale ever since this tin-pot Government came to power. Why don’t you pull your finger out? We were spending money while the sun was shining; there is none being spent now.

I would certainly be happy to visit Markham Vale at some point and talk those things through with the hon. Gentleman. His area has a local enterprise partnership and has had an opportunity to put in a bid for an enterprise zone or the regional growth fund. I do not know what it has done, but I am certainly happy to talk to him.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is a long-standing Member and I am sure that he has followed the changes in attitudes towards manufacturing in this House under different Governments. He will be interested in the leader of the Labour party’s new distinction between “predators” and “producers”. What is troubling a lot of us on the Government Benches is why a party of dinosaurs is so opposed to predators. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can explain.

Companies in my constituency that manufacture construction products, quarry materials for concrete or build materials for the construction industry have very much welcomed the plan announced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) to bring forward infrastructure projects in order to increase employment and build manufacturing capacity in the United Kingdom. Given falling growth and rising unemployment, would it not be prudent for the Business Secretary to support that plan?

Infrastructure is certainly a key to recovery, and it is absolutely right to put it on a sustainable basis. The Chief Secretary announced a programme for urgent modest-scale infrastructure projects a few weeks ago, and other infrastructure projects will be announced in the regional growth fund imminently.

In answer to questions to his Department in June, the Secretary of State said:

“There is rapid growth now beginning to take place in manufacturing and exports.”—[Official Report, 9 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 276.]

Given that figures from the Office for National Statistics confirm that manufacturing output fell last quarter and given that yesterday’s CBI industrial trends survey showed sentiment from manufacturers deteriorating, order books emptying and export prospects sharply declining for a second successive quarter, will the Minister update his assessment of four months ago? Does he think that any aspect of Government policy needs to change to ensure that manufacturing drives forward economic recovery and growth?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that business conditions are difficult, but over the last two years manufacturing has increased significantly faster than the rest of the economy, as have exports. That is the direction that we need to pursue. Given that manufacturing is predominately an export-based industry, he will understand that the difficulties facing our major export markets in the European Union are creating problems for manufacturers and manufacturing confidence, but we will hit our way through them.

I thank the Secretary of State for visiting SABIC Petrochemicals in my constituency to hear about the cost issues for energy-intensive manufacturing industries. When can those industries expect an announcement about a mitigation package?

I think they expect an announcement very soon. The visit was extremely constructive, and my colleague and others have rightly emphasised to us that energy-intensive industries are a key part of manufacturing recovery. It would be totally counter-productive economically and environmentally if they were driven overseas. We are determined that that should not happen, and a package of measures will be announced soon.