There’s no escaping the fact that for any new Prime Minister, there are certain issues that have to be addressed if they’re going to consider their premiership a success. Perennial issues like housing and the NHS are always investigated, but in 2016, it’s increasingly vital that the rot found in the UK’s manufacturing industry is stopped as soon as possible.
Currently making up around 10% of the nation’s GDP, manufacturing is a vital part of the country. It has, however, been in a period of sustained decline. For decades now, actually. With the rise of China the closure of Britain’s pits, the UK began to see manufacturing as a secondary industry to services, which dominate the UK’s current GDP. Things got worse during the financial crash, and the UK manufacturing industry still hasn’t come back from the damage done during that period.
With the realities of Brexit now looming and UK manufacturing hitting its lowest post in almost three and a half years, the time has come for a serious review into the UK’s industrial policy. So far, Mrs May has announced that she’s chaired the first meeting of the "Cabinet Committee on Economy and Industrial Strategy" in her Downing Street offices, bringing together the heads of 11 other ministries to set out her stall for a state-supported industrial comeback for a post-Brexit Britain.
That’s already a dramatic step, given that the concept of industrial strategy has been dead since the days of Mrs Thatcher. We have since found that the meeting was focussed on how the government could support growth in different areas of the country, in particular Wales and the North. Finance minister Philip Hammond told the meeting that by reducing the productivity gap between the rest of the country and London and the southeast, economic output could rise by as much as 9%, adding a total of £150bn to the economy.
One way to do that might well be to implement closer cooperation between the state and profit making industries like carmakers and aerospace, which has been trialled in limited areas of the UK to some success, but may well be expanded upon and brought close to the heart of government thinking.
That’s all well and good for big businesses, but what about smaller ones? Well, actual detail is scarce, but it’s a safe bet to assume that the strategy will include greater provisions for traditional infrastructure like roads and rail, with new funding for better broadband and lower energy costs. All of these policies would help to support new and existing businesses like ours, providing stainless steel tube fittings and other parts to manufacturers and businesses around the globe.
Finally, we might well expect Mrs May to push for more training of highly-skilled workers that the manufacturing industry says it needs to survive. That could mean the expansion of vocational colleges or even more funding to help apprentices go do degrees which can help them progress in the manufacturing industry.