CBI boss urges development of manufacturing strategy

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Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General CBI

CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn will today say that we must champion and grow the UK’s manufacturing sector because it matters for prosperity and makes our economy more balanced, diversified and innovative.

To succeed in reversing the long-term decline of the sector, she will call on the Government to give its full backing to a modern Industrial Strategy. She will urge business to work in partnership with the Government to embrace long-term opportunities and trends, particularly in digital. She will also emphasise the need to focus on developing the right skills in the sector, managing energy costs, and encouraging more R&D investment.

Speaking to manufacturing firms at University of Warwick, Carolyn will outline the importance of the sector to supporting higher-skilled jobs outside London and to diversifying the UK’s economy to make it more resilient to economic shocks.

However, she will describe UK manufacturing as a ‘tale of two sectors’, outlining the contrast between the steel industry’s high-profile difficulties with the automotive sector’s record productivity, production and sales.

Carolyn will say: “Steel gives a sharp example of where we didn’t think long term. Where the answers didn’t come until it was too late.

“Yet the automotive industry provides the evidence that a clear, collaborative approach works. The industry came together, identified barriers holding back its productivity and put its top three proposals to Government.

“Government acted and deserves great credit for doing so. The results have been astounding.

“Every manufacturing sector should have a plan for its future and many already do – we would suggest that each plan addresses these three questions.

“First, is the sector strategic for the UK?  Second, is the sector currently globally competitive, and if not why not? Does the UK have a competitive advantage?

“Third, what actions could government and business take to make it more competitive?

“Solutions may be about enhancing competition to encourage new disruptors to enter, further actions on skills, getting the right infrastructure in place, targeted R&D or support with digital transformation.

“Of course, because government funding is scarce, all proposals need ruthless prioritisation based on their impact on UK prosperity.  That’s the world we live in.  And the solutions at the end of the day may well be cross-industry.

“But the building blocks are sector strategies – modern industrial strategies.”