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Investment in UK Manufacturing

Volume 711: debated on Tuesday 29 March 2022

The UK remains one of the world’s largest manufacturing nations, and the Government agree that manufacturing plays a vital role in the health of the UK economy. It is ultimately for British manufacturers to make decisions on their own strategies, but the Government continue to support them through a range of initiatives on productivity, costs, innovation and investment, ranging from Made Smarter to the catapults and the global Britain investment fund.

I very much welcome the Prime Minister’s response last week to my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Holly Mumby-Croft) that energy-intensive manufacturers such as ceramics will be covered by the upcoming British energy security strategy. These sectors are more important than ever, particularly for future technology, and they need support to address high energy costs now. Will my hon. Friend the Minister do more to support ceramic manufacturers to invest in new technologies and increased energy efficiency?

There is no bigger champion of the ceramics industry than my hon. Friend and his colleagues from Stoke, who work as an excellent team in supporting the industry as a whole. The Government have worked with industry for many years to mitigate the costs of energy, including an aggregate of £2 billion-worth of subsidy since 2013. From our multitude of conversations on the ceramics industry with him and his colleagues, I know he will encourage manufacturers in his constituency to consider other opportunities such as the industrial energy transformation fund.

Earlier this month, bosses triggered a consultation on redundancies at Liberty Pressing Solutions, a business in my constituency that produces high-quality products for the automotive industry. Financial difficulties at its parent company, the Gupta Family Group Alliance, have put its future in doubt, and with it the jobs of more than 200 people. I visited the factory and met the company’s skilled, dedicated workers, who risk being plunged into unemployment just as the cost of living crisis intensifies. What is the Minister doing to protect skilled jobs such as these, which are vital in transitioning to a green and sustainable economy? Will he meet me to discuss how we can save these jobs?

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the importance of a strong manufacturing base, which is one reason why we have spent so much time supporting and having active discussions with manufacturing. The challenges around Liberty are well known, and I have also visited Liberty sites in recent weeks and months. I am happy to meet her to talk further.

Manufacturers will open their factory doors on 7 July in a UK-wide open house, which is an opportunity to showcase the diversity of the sector, the range of highly skilled jobs on offer and the amazing opportunities for reskilling and career development within UK manufacturing. Will the Minister join me in supporting National Manufacturing Day 2022?

I could hardly say no. I look forward to doing that and visiting many great manufacturers across the country. We are highlighting the brilliant work of the sector, and we continue to champion it as a vital part of the UK economy.

The Government are well aware of the crisis they have created for energy-intensive industries such as those on Teesside. Now that the EU has set aside €50 million to help its firms with energy costs, British firms such as CF Fertilisers, which have no such support, face even tougher competition. I know the Minister is visiting the company tomorrow, but what will the Government do to address the impact of this EU funding on UK fertiliser production? Can he advise on when a decision will be taken about renewing the electricity compensation scheme for energy-intensive industries, which runs out on Thursday?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. He will be aware of the substantial support we have given manufacturers over many years, including more than £2 billion to mitigate energy prices. I note that in Teesside there have been recent announcements that demonstrate the confidence people have within manufacturing as a whole.

My hon. Friend will know that small and medium-sized manufacturers make up the core of the manufacturing base in the Black Country, but many of mine in Wednesbury, Oldbury and Tipton will be slightly concerned that they have missed out on investment because of their size. Will he meet me and manufacturers from the Black Country to discuss how we can ensure that they make the most of the packages on offer for them to succeed?

My hon. Friend is a great champion for his constituency. I have been to the west midlands regularly to talk about the importance of the manufacturing base, and I would be happy to meet him to talk about West Bromwich.

In the past, the Nigg oil fabrication facility in Easter Ross built some of the mightiest production platforms for the UK—I worked in that yard. Today, wind turbines for both onshore and offshore power seem to be built anywhere but in Scotland. The firm that owns the Nigg yard announced plans almost four months to get into fabrication, but since then we have not heard a lot. I do not expect the Minister to have the answer at his fingertips, but will he ask his Department to see how progress is- coming along on that front, because it is crucial for the local workforce?

Investment is attracted to areas that have agile, pro-growth regulatory environments. In this country, we delegate a lot of the implementation of regulation to agencies, but the oversight and assessment of regulatory agency performance is weak. Will the Minister look at ways in which we can improve how we regulate the regulators?

My hon. Friend highlights an important point about getting the balance right between regulation, and ensuring that the output and productivity of these industries works. I would be happy to talk to him more if that is helpful.

The spring statement did not

“address the complex challenges facing the manufacturing sector”.

It just is not

“tenable for thousands of businesses”

and it is

“kicking the can down the road”.

Those are the words of three businesses that are asking for help. So how about this: first, cancel the 10% increase in national insurance payroll tax; secondly, cut energy bills by up to £600 per household; and, thirdly, set up a £600 million energy-intensive industries contingency fund? Our plan is following the evidence from the business community of what is needed. Why will this Government not help businesses that are crying out for support?

The hon. Gentleman highlights the importance of manufacturing, which we have already talked about in these questions. This Government are a champion of manufacturing—[Interruption.] I am so glad that all Opposition Members agree with me. If they really do, they would recognise that ensuring a strong manufacturing base is incredibly important. The Labour party can provide no lessons, on the basis that it decimated manufacturing before 2010.

I am glad now to know who the Minister’s favourite in Stoke-on-Trent is. Steelite, based in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, received funding from the regional growth fund, but it is being asked to pay back £685,000 plus interest due to capital underspend. The reason for that is simple: a global pandemic came across in March 2020, so it was not viable for Steelite to invest in capital when it did not even know whether it was going to continue to exist or how long the pandemic was going to last. Will my hon. Friend meet me and representatives of Steelite to discuss how that funding can continue to stay, so that Steelite can add to its factory and therefore employ more people locally?