Skip to main content

Manufacturing: Investment Growth Forecast

Volume 729: debated on Tuesday 5 July 2011

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their forecast for the growth of manufacturing investment in the current year.

My Lords, the Government do not make forecasts of growth in manufacturing investment specifically. However, the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast total annual business investment growth of 6.7 per cent in 2011. This forecast is underpinned by an extended period of low interest rates, reductions in the rate of corporation tax and strong growth in profitability. The findings of independent surveys by the CBI and the manufacturers’ organisation, the EEF, also suggest that manufacturing investment will increase in 2011.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. On 28 April the Prime Minister said that there had been an increase in manufacturing output and exports in the previous 12 months, but on 25 May the EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, commented that although there was export growth, manufacturing investment was down. This was confirmed in June by the Project Management Institute. How does the noble Baroness consider these matters?

There is no doubt that we have gone through a soft period in the last three months. However, the latest surveys from the CBI and the EEF suggest that output will grow overall in the second quarter of 2011, with manufacturers expecting growth to continue well into the third quarter.

My Lords, in the light of her Answer and indeed the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, might this not be a moment for the Minister to endorse the Statement last week by her colleague the Business Secretary that Britain’s economy must undergo a cultural revolution to prevent manufacturing losing so many school leavers and high-flying graduates to the City? What steps are she and her department prepared to take to promote the See Inside Manufacturing programme, in which young people visit schools to encourage others to train as career engineers, thereby helping our exports and manufacturing?

The Government are well aware—certainly my boss, the Secretary of State, is well aware—that advanced manufacturing is what will take our country forward in the future. Investment in technology, investment in skills and investment in the very thing that my noble friend has just mentioned are what will take us forward.

I do not know where the Minister gets her figures from, but the Office for National Statistics, in its latest published figures on business investment, tells us that business investment fell in the first quarter of this year; so I would like to know who she is quoting as superior to the Office for National Statistics. However, is not the main question about the level of manufacturing output? Is the Minister aware that virtually everybody who is looking at the forecasts, for both the British and the global economy, now expects us to start going through a period of a fall in the expansion of manufacturing output locally and globally? Is that not a matter that the Government ought to be taking rather seriously?

We are predicting growth—not very exciting, but we are. We must always remember that over the past 30 years manufacturing has declined as a share of the economy; as a sector it has grown and continues to grow.

My Lords, I hope you will allow the Bishop of Derby to ask the Minister about Bombardier in the context of the very important commitment to manufacturing investment. Could the Minister indicate to us where the design and making of trains fit into a strategy within which we have to invest in manufacturing; and what investment in manufacturing in that strategy would have to say to a highly skilled workforce in a place like Derby that it is facing collapse through lack of investment and lack of opportunity?

There are a lot of questions from the right reverend Prelate. I will answer as many as I can, or as many as my Leader will allow me to. We all know about the announcement that Bombardier made this morning that 1,200 jobs would be lost at the plant in Derby. The company had already told us that this was going to happen regardless of whether it had won the Thameslink contract. As we know, this particular industry is very volatile. The company has had enormous contracts, it is coming to the end of them and it did predict that it would lose jobs. As a volatile industry, it has to hire and fire at will, but we hope that it is a temporary situation. We are doing everything that we can to try and help it grow. We are introducing 21 new enterprise zones across the local enterprise partnership areas, which will benefit from superfast broadband, lower taxes and lower levels of regulation and planning controls. At the end of the day, it is very important for us to support our industry wherever we can.

My Lords, did the Minister not hear on the one o’clock news today the chairman of the Derby company, I believe, who gave no indication that it was going to have troubles anyway, and who claimed that the reason for Siemens getting the contract was that the Germans actually support Siemens through subsidies? If we have to have competition in the European Community, why can we not have it on a level playing field?

There is no doubt that it is always a shock when we do not get a contract like this. Today, the Transport Secretary and the Business Secretary have written to the Prime Minister underlining the need to examine the wider issue of whether the UK is making best use of the application of the EU procurement rules. I think this House will be very glad to hear that.

Does the Minister agree that for the first time for many years the pound is close to parity level, which helps make our industry, at last, much more competitive internationally? Would she like to suggest to the Treasury that, in future instead of having just an interest rate policy or an inflation policy, we should also have a rate of exchange policy that might help us to support our industry over many more decades in the future?

My Lords, it was more than a shock for Bombardier employees who have lost their jobs. Even more worrying, perhaps, is its ability to bid for future contracts, such as Crossrail. The point I want to emphasise is that British manufacturers are failing to capitalise fully on the weak value of the pound as factory growth lags behind continental nations led by Germany. The purchasing managers’ index of UK factory output fell to 51.3 per cent last month, just above the 50 per cent—

I will be—that marks the divide between expansion and contraction. That is the lowest reading since September 2009. What steps are the Government going to take to ensure that British manufacturing is able to respond to an environment where the value of sterling should enable it to have a competitive advantage?

We are having a competitive advantage in countries such as China and India, where we are growing. That is very important to us. Competing with our European colleagues is one thing, but taking new business abroad from the BRICs is even more important to our country at this time.