Over the last eighteen months or so the Coalition Government has been really straining every sinew to seek to rebalance the British economy and put manufacturing at its heart:
Whether by lowering Corporation Tax; committing to big infrastructure initiatives like High Speed 2, or our Green Investment Bank; whether by promoting the United Kingdom as a place which is open for business in emerging markets; whether by reforming public procurement, particularly giving SMEs a greater chance to make their way in those public procurement processes; and, of course, improving access to finance, an extremely vexed and difficult issue, which I know Vince will say more about.
And I can start off by announcing that today we will be opening the third round of the Regional Growth Fund - on top of the first two rounds which were worth £1.4 billion. The third round starting today is worth a billion pounds. So £2.4 billion in total. I’m extremely excited about what the Regional Growth Fund is capable of delivering. The first two rounds have already stimulated over £7 billion of private sector investment with a ratio of about one pound of public money to five pounds of private money.
Manufacturing is one of the biggest winners so far, winning about £420m of the first two rounds and in total - subject of course to due diligence - the first two rounds will deliver around three hundred and thirty thousand jobs across the country. So I hope those of you who either participated in the Regional Growth Fund so far, or still want to, will take the opportunity between now and June, when the deadline closes, to apply for this third round.
So we are seeking to deploy a whole range of Government policy tools to aid and assist the rebalancing of our economy after the heart attack suffered in the banking system in 2008, moving the UK towards a more sustainable balanced model of economic development.
But there’s one particular area I would like to focus on this morning and it’s this: just a short while ago I read that a survey came out about the attitudes of very young children - eleven and twelve year olds, year seven pupils - towards the kind of jobs they would like to do in the future.
When asked ‘what would you like to do?’ - predictably enough, I have young children as well - lots of them said astronauts and explorers and footballers and pop stars and so on, but a number of the others said they wanted to be bankers, or to work in restaurants, hotels, or in public services.
Guess how many said that they wanted a job in manufacturing? Not one, zero. This is a country where one in ten adults currently work in manufacturing, yet when you ask eleven and twelve year olds whether they want to work in manufacturing, none of them say they do.
Now that can not continue. Look at the values that we’ve been teaching our young boys and girls. Maybe there’s no surprise that they don’t dream of going in to engineering or manufacturing because for so long, arguably, as a country, we have overvalued services and undervalued manufacturing. Overvalued making bets behind a computer screen in the Square Mile rather than inventing and building and exporting things. We’ve lauded, traditional academic qualifications and denigrated practical learning. So university degrees have been perhaps overvalued at the expense of vocational qualifications. We’ve bought in to the myth that our industrial decline is somehow inevitable and unstoppable and that the new world will always trump the old world in manufacturing.
I studied languages and humanities as a student. I was at university in the mid 1980s and I’m part of a generation that was told then that if you want to get up and get ahead you have to go down to the City of London.
My great grandfather was a chemist, an industrialist. I hope my children will consider pursuing his example; we have to inspire our young people to get into manufacturing if we want to exploit our own collective potential as a real power in manufacturing across the world.
Look at what we’re up against - Germany, India, China. These are countries brimming with young children who do dream of becoming engineers, who do dream of going in to manufacturing.
And China doesn’t just win contracts because they can fill their factory floors with low cost manual labour, but because they increasingly have well trained, highly technical employees and a highly trained workforce too. I recently read that back in 2007, shortly before the iPhone went on sale, Steve Jobs suddenly decided that all the screens needed to be changed. Apparently he had a prototype in his pocket, and he noticed that his keys kept scratching the screen so he wanted an assembly line overhaul and it needed to happen very, very quickly.
China immediately began bidding for the work. Apple estimated that about eight thousand seven hundred industrial engineers would be needed to oversee two hundred thousand assembly line workers. The company’s analysts had forecast it would take at least nine months to find that many qualified engineers in the United States and I doubt very much that we could have matched that here in the United Kingdom. In China it took fifteen days.
So the question for us, it seems to me, is how are we going to encourage a new generation of manufacturers? And the answer I believe lies in a deal between us, Government, and you in industry. For our part we’ve heard the message loud and clear from you that you want to give young people opportunities and jobs, but you don’t always think they’ve received the education or possess the skills which equip them to do so.
When, as we saw this week, a third of UK businesses say there is a gulf between their needs and the skills of school and college leavers, when Nissan says it’s having to redesign its apprenticeship programme because too many apprentices are struggling with basic maths, we understand in Government that we have a major job to do to provide young people with the right schooling and the right skills to help you give them the opportunities which they deserve.
Whether it’s our radical school reforms, giving schools more autonomy about how they teach children and how they tailor what goes on in the classroom to the individual needs of children; whether it’s encouraging graduates - the best graduates - in to teaching; whether it’s using the pupil premium to target disadvantaged children in school; whether it’s the protection which we have delivered even in very tough fiscal times for the science budget; whether it’s giving our universities a long term road map of financial security and sustainability; whether it’s boosting vocational training through the creation of twenty four university technical colleges, or the massive expansion of apprenticeships - a quarter of a million more apprenticeships will be delivered under this Government than were planned by the previous one; or whether it’s seeking to do our bit to capture the imagination of young people and to elevate the esteem of engineering and manufacturing, which was why for example we launched - on a cross party basis - the new £1million Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering; and, during the Olympics, we plan to celebrate and showcase the best of UK manufacturing and design at a major exhibition at the Science Museum.
All of that is what we can and we must do, but at the end of the day my guess is it’s your stories that will inspire young people most.
I was at GKN this morning, at their really truly inspiring new investment just down the road. Get young people in to a plant like that where you see high tech disciplines being applied in the aerospace sector. That would do more to lift the prejudice against the smokestack industry than any number of speeches or articles from politicians.
So I hope you will make every effort where you can to get in to every school and college in your local area and tell them that manufacturing isn’t just boiler suits and greasy workshops, tell them that manufacturing isn’t something that the United Kingdom used to do. Tell them it isn’t something that only happens in other parts of the world. We know that over time Asian labour costs will rise. We know that as the Eastern economies evolve that will create new opportunities for us. The traffic won’t forever flow one way. So tell this new generation that theirs will be the generation that repatriates manufacturing, that can bring manufacturing home.
I regularly give talks in schools. I’m sure all my ministerial colleagues do so all the time. If people like us can inspire a few young people about something as unpopular as politics, I’m sure you can do a much, much better job in inspiring them about robots and fast cars. Do it off your own back or join one of the schemes that we’ve set up like our STEM Ambassador scheme, a network of around twenty eight thousand volunteers from academia and industry giving talks and running events that get children enthused about a career in science and technology. Or the Inspiring the Future programme that does a very similar thing.
Building a new rebalanced economy, after the terrible shocks suffered in 2008, with manufacturing at its heart is a generation’s work. It’s not going to happen overnight. This generation, our generation, is starting it, but the next generation will be the generation that has to finish it.
Thank you very much.