Time to rebalance the UK economy

4th October 2010

The UK’s Shadow Secretary of State for Industry, Pat McFadden MP, was the keynote speaker at a fringe meeting supported by IChemE at the Labour Party’s annual conference in Manchester, UK. The Institution has joined forces with the other leading engineering organisations under the ‘Engineering the Future’ banner to highlight investment, skills and innovation issues to policy makers across the political spectrum.

With the Labour Party now in opposition following its general election defeat in May 2010, McFadden was in a reflective mood and he opened the debate by saying ‘”The last Labour Government came late to the idea of a formal industrial policy, due partly to a concern that such a policy would appear to hark back to past Labour policies”.

Nonetheless, he remained convinced that the UK economy required rebalancing and argued strongly in favour of a tax regime that supports investment, widening participation in higher education and the need for improvements in the number and quality of apprenticeships. The Shadow Minister also attacked the new coalition government’s decision to cancel the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters, moves to introduce a cap on the number of non-EU migrants to the UK and the abolition of the regional development agencies.

IChemE Fellow and SembCorp Utilities VP, Jane Atkinson, spoke passionately in favour of manufacturing and offered an illuminating view of her role as a senior chemical engineer with responsibility for the supply of energy and water at the Wilton chemicals complex. “Manufacturing is not in decline”, she argued, “rather it is changing and growing and the government needs to talk the language of engineering”.

The meeting also featured contributions Chief Executive of the UK Design Council, David Kester, and UK STEM Ambassador, Kate Bellingham.

IChemE Director of Policy, Andy Furlong, expressed his satisfaction at the quality of the debate which was conducted against the backdrop of a frenetic Labour conference that had just elected its new leader, Ed Milliband.

He said: “Creating the hi-tech sustainable economy of the future will require new models of cooperation between industry, government and education to rebalance the economy and drive growth. At the same time, no single engineering discipline has all the answers and we must work in partnership too. IChemE is a keen supporter of the Engineering the Future alliance and we are committed to this joint effort to promote a vision for engineering in the UK.

The final fringe meeting of the 2010 political party conference season will take place at the Conservative conference in Birmingham on Monday 4 October.