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Why Manufacturing Matters

Why Manufacturing Matters

Manufacturing is crucial to our success yet it is facing a cliff-edge collapse. Steve Turner, Unite the Union's assistant general secretary, explains why his union is launching an industrial strategy plan.

UK manufacturing must be at the heart of any strategy to recover and rebuild our economy as we emerge from the Covid-19 lockdown and face the future challenges of changing trading relationships, the climate emergency and the need to transition our economy. 

Today (25 June), Unite brings together a broad panel of leading opinion formers from politics and industry along with MPs, Unite shop stewards, reps and officers, media and many more for a live webinar to debate the urgent action we need now from government if we are to build back better.

Manufacturing is at a crossroads, with key sectors haemorrhaging jobs and facing a cliff-edge collapse in demand for products.  We can stop this and rebuild but it will require more than a sticking plaster or a job club set up on the site of a once-thriving industry.  

We need a clear plan and industrial strategy that directly intervenes in and provides support for our existing manufacturing capabilities, including our world class automotive, aerospace and aviation sectors, with investment, including public ownership and strategic equity stakes, alongside support for a just transition and diversification plan to build locally for a greener, cleaner environment and supply chain resilience as we position our economy to address the challenges ahead.

Rebuilding our manufacturing heartlands will provide the opportunities to provide jobs and apprenticeships, make the products we need to green our economy and export the high value goods we need to raise the capital to support our public services.

In my regular discussions with government, including with the Chancellor, I have kept our demand for a ‘National Council for Recovery’ high on the agenda and presented a range of ideas for ‘shovel ready’ projects and state interventions that will both support and create jobs and transition our economy, while putting people and climate first on our road to recovery.

These would include:

  • A major programme of manufacturing and retrofit for domestic housing to help green our housing and create thousands of jobs.  
  • The design, engineering and UK manufacture of technologies to support carbon neutral manufacturing and our wider net-zero carbon objectives.  
  • A government rethink on tidal power as a core element of a mixed energy generation, including wind, solar and nuclear, while investing now in hydrogen generation and use.  We understand that the prime minster is about to block the go-ahead for the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project.
  • A vehicle replacement initiative now to see our high-value automotive sector help drive our economy from a looming recession and support the industry’s journey to electrification.
  • An aircraft replacement initiative tied into any wider aviation support package to protect thousands of jobs while we develop the new synthetic fuels and electric power systems to transition the sector to a greener future.
  • Using the £292 billion of taxpayers’ money that the government spends each year buying goods and services to support UK manufacturing, with a clear instruction to all those planning and supplying public projects – from infrastructure to vehicle fleets to fibre option broadband networks – to build local/buy UK.

Countries including Germany, France and even the United States have already acted to safeguard their manufacturing industries, with direct financial and political support and clear direction on greening their economies. Without the same intervention from the UK government our manufacturing capacity will struggle to survive.  How it uses its procurement budget is central to any industrial strategy.

Levelling up the economy, protecting jobs, enhancing skills and expanding apprenticeships can only be done with clear regional plans, developed in partnership with industry and unions, our devolved nations, mayoralties and local government.

My message to ministers is clear. Our people and communities deserve better. We will not tolerate continued austerity, millions unemployed and growing social inequalities. We can avoid a damaging, long-term recession, but we cannot do it with government sitting on its hands. Meeting the challenges of Covid-19, Brexit and climate change head-on requires direct, strategic state intervention and genuine collaboration with industry and trade unions.  Unite will continue to play its part; we need you to step up and play yours.

  • By Steve Turner, Unite the Union, Assistant General Secretary

PHOTO: Andrey Kirievskiy