Unite is insisting that government must take action if the gloomy start to the new year for UK manufacturing is not to spiral downward further into a gloomy decade.
Britain’s manufacturing sector is suffering a rapid decline, with last week’s IHS Markit purchasing managers index (PMI) recording the worst figure for factory output since 2012.
The worrying trend is reflected in recent comments by the Tata groupthat it cannot keep funding losses at its Port Talbot steelworks, as well as in PMI data showing that civil engineering, which includes construction, is declining at a rate not seen since 2009.
New figures from the Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) also show that UK car sales slumped to a six year low in response to Brexit and a fall in diesel sales.
In response to the manufacturing PMI figures, Unite called on ministers to provide urgently needed assistance and long-term certainty for the manufacturing sector.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said, “These figures are deeply worrying. While the roots of this can be traced back to decades of underinvestment and short-term profiteering, there is no doubt that the collapse of our manufacturing base today is a direct result of government failure.”
Over the past few years, UK manufacturing has suffered from a fall ininvestment, the transfer of existing work overseas, factory closures and a subsequent loss of knowledge and skills.
Turner blamed four years of political uncertainty, fears over a no deal Brexit and the government’s “complete failure to develop and introduce a meaningful industrial strategy to intervene, invest and support UK Plc” for the decline.
Adding that the “invisible hand of the market” will not resolve the situation, Turner called on the government to secure a customs arrangement and frictionless trade with the EU, as well as specific support for individual sectors as part of an “interventionist industrial strategy”.
Sectors in need of support include automotive and steel, with the steelmaking sector under renewed focus after comments made yesterday (5 January) by chairman of the Tata group, Natarajan Chandrasekaran, who said Tata cannot keep funding heavy losses atits Port Talbot steelworks.
Last year, Tata Steel’s pre-tax losses amount to £371m, while in 2017-18 the firm lost £222m.
Unite national officer for steel, Tony Brady, said Chandrasekaran’scomments should act as a wake-up call to the government.
‘Need action now’
Unite has long advocated for the government to help Britain’s struggling steel sector, which is a vital foundation industry, by reducing energy costs and business rates for steel makers.
Other forms of assistance include allaying customer fears over tariffs and ensuring UK steel is used in domestic infrastructure and manufacturing projects.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said the difficulties the steel sector is facing is part of a wider failure by the government to stand up for UK manufacturing.
Calling for a interventionist industrial strategy to bring UK Plc back to health, Turner said, “A failure to take urgent action will result in manufacturing falling into a deep recession, thousands of skilled jobs, apprenticeships and opportunities for our kids being lost and those same families and working class communities so eagerly touted by Boris Johnson and the Tories during the general election, paying the ultimate price of their failure.”