General election campaigning is well and truly underway. Each day for the next four weeks will contain a large dose of carefully planned messaging from each party about their plans for Brexit, public services and the economy – not necessarily in that order.
Manufacturers are listening intently – policy decisions on each of these could influence their future success and affect plans to invest. So in advance of official publication of the various manifestos (next week?), here are some of the domestic policy priorities from our manifesto published earlier this week, to support a vibrant and productive UK economy, that we think would be welcomed in Britain’s factories.
There are lots of ways in government can get stuck in to help reverse the UK’s sub-par productivity performance. Our manifesto sets out four outcomes that the next government should have a clear focus on with the policy detail to back it up.
1. Building British Excellence – competitive products and companies
Increasing the value-add of our output, increasing efficiency and expanding into new market are consistently cited as objectives for UK manufacturers and all of these can boost our potential productivity. Companies will deliver on this, but the right moves from government can help take these ambitions to the next level.
The Scoreboard shows performance in most dimensions and indicators has improved, although in most cases growth is modest. The best performing dimensions are ‘open, excellent and attractive research systems’. A relative weakness is the dimension of ‘firm investments, especially due to bad relative performance in Non-R&D innovation expenditures’.
2. Building stronger foundations for growth
The UK has seen more years of famine than feast when it comes to capital spending and as a result parts of our transport and communications infrastructure have been hindering rather than enabling productivity improvements.
Some positive developments have been set in motion with the establishment of the National Infrastructure Commission and a bit more longer-term planning, such as the road investment strategy. Industry would like more of this and for the next government to …..
3. Boosting investment through a more competitive business environment
The UK’s past record on business investment is widely believed to be a factor in our current productivity woes and the outlook for future investment is becoming more uncertain - see the last set of OBR forecasts, thanks (at least in part) to Brexit. Manifestos must not simply view business taxation as a means to fund additional spending for public services, policy also need to deliver a predictable tax system that anchors vital investment in the UK.
Our top four for the manifestos...
4. Supporting the delivery of a more skilled, healthy and productive workforce
Last, and not certainly not least on the home front, is a skills policy that supports the development of firms’ skills needs today and builds the pipeline of talent we need for the future. This isn’t about apprentices or graduates or class sizes or lifelong learning, but building an education and training systems that ensures the workforce is ready for the fourth industrial revolution. We're some way from that given the number of current hard-to-fill vacancies.
Here are some of the basic pillars that should form the basis of manifesto commitments.
Reform the apprenticeship levy by providing employers with greater flexibility and control to spend over their own digital funds.
Reform the UK immigration system by allocating employers work permits according to skills shortages.
Recruit and retain the best English and maths teachers in underperforming schools.
Introduce fiscal incentives that encourage employers to support health-related initiatives to help people with long-term health conditions return to work earlier.
We'll be back on the blog in the coming weeks to focus on our key Brexit asks and to see how the manifestos stack up against manufacturers' priorities for the next parliament.