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Manufacturing: West Midlands Advisory Service

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 9 March 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how much assistance the West Midlands Manufacturing Advisory Service has offered manufacturing businesses in that region; and what benefits have accrued to the businesses they support.

My Lords, expenditure on the manufacturing service in the West Midlands since the start of the current contract in April 2007 has been £12.5 million up to December 2009. This has provided more than 240,000 manufacturing reviews with companies and nearly 1,600 consultancy-supported projects. The businesses that are assisted by the Manufacturing Advisory Service in the West Midlands have reported total benefits of £105 million, and additional sales turnover of £156 million.

I thank my noble friend for that positive reply. I should point out that the West Midlands Manufacturing Advisory Service has indeed been a great success in the Midlands for manufacturing since its inception in 2002. Will my noble friend assure this House that a Labour Government will continue to support manufacturing in the West Midlands and the West Midlands Manufacturing Advisory Service, together with Advantage West Midlands, which is doing such a fine job for our region?

Some people seem to doubt spontaneity. I thank my noble friend for that question. I assure him that the West Midlands Manufacturing Advisory Service is a good example of the very practical and effective support that is available to manufacturers through manufacturing advisory services across the country. In the past financial year, it has helped more than 8,000 manufacturers to achieve an added value of £120 million. As we know, support to manufacturers is vital if the UK is to rebalance the economy. We have directly invested a further £8 million in the Manufacturing Advisory Service, and nearly £1 million of vital investment for the West Midlands as part of the Strategic Investment Fund, to carry on the good work and to support opportunities in low-carbon and advanced manufacturing where the UK has capability and there is the potential for significant growth.

My Lords, if everything is as rosy as the Minister has just set out, how does he explain today’s frankly awful figures from the Office for National Statistics, which show that our goods trade deficit with the rest of the world actually rose in January to almost £8 billion and that exports have fallen by 7 per cent.? Does he accept that his Government have singularly failed to resolve blockages in trade finance that underpins UK global trade, which is so vital to facilitate British exports?

My Lords, we were focusing on the West Midlands, but no, I do not accept the noble Lord’s analysis. If we were to proceed in the way in which Her Majesty’s Opposition would like us to go, we would be scrapping the regional development agency against the wishes of business and the chamber of commerce, which seems to me surprising. In attempts to ensure that we do boost the economy, it is noticeable that, when things such as the vehicle scrappage scheme have been introduced, they have been opposed by the Opposition, even though they have provided a huge boost to the car industry. Industry figures have shown again and again the benefits of that scheme.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister shares the admiration of your Lordships’ House for the pre-emptive strike made by the noble Lord, Lord Bilston, in relation to potential cuts in services that are obviously on the way. In looking at the overall position of manufacturing advisory services throughout the country, is the Minister prepared to share with the House the evaluation which, presumably, the Government have done as to exactly what the benefit is overall, as we approach this period when cuts in services are inevitable?

My Lords, we believe that there have been significant benefits, which is why we are going to continue to invest in the advisory service. We have seen the figures for the improvements in profitability, to which I referred in my opening remarks. Since the programme started in 2002, more than 12,000 projects with manufacturing companies have resulted in added value to the companies of more than £700 million. We believe that to be a very worthwhile investment.

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend could use these advisory services to get over the message to people of just how successful manufacturing is in the UK. We are not just the sixth largest manufacturing country in the world. In the West Midlands and in other areas, we have the most advanced industries: sub-sea platforms, aerospace, the creative industries—one could list them for ages, but if one reads the papers, one would think there is no manufacturing industry left in this country. So can we please try to get that message over through these bodies?

My Lords, I absolutely agree with my noble friend. It is unfortunate that the Opposition do nothing but talk down the contribution made by manufacturing industry rather than giving it support and boosting its confidence.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, either out of embarrassment or ignorance, he did not answer the question put to him by my noble friend on the Conservative Front Bench? He was not asked what a future Conservative Government would do; he was asked about what his Government have done. Would he now like to tell us?

My Lords, I mentioned several significant areas, but I can add to what we will be doing because we believe in the regional development agencies. So we will be giving an extension to the Accelerate programme for automotive companies—an additional £5 million of support through the advisory service. There is also a highly successful £11 million advantage transition bridge fund, and support for the regions’ community development finance institutions, offering loans of up to £50,000 for small and medium enterprises. That is real, positive support for industry.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the West Midlands Manufacturing Advisory Service is in no way connected with the Midlands Industrial Council, a Tory front organisation which puts money into providing constituency consultancy services for marginal seats? Will my noble friend confirm to the House, and perhaps also to the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, that British elections are there to be fought and won, not to be bought?