Mandelson offers hope to Midlands car industry
Feb 6 2009 By Alun Thorne
Lord Mandelson offered a small crumb of hope to the ailing West Midland automotive sector when he addressed the CBI manufacturing dinner at the Hilton Metropole in Solihull.
The Business Secretary, while accepting there were tough times ahead for manufacturers, told the audience on Thursday night that they were looking at a number of initiatives to help car makers in the region.
While reiterating the Government’s commitments to opening credit lines for car makers, Lord Mandelson, for the first time, said the Government was looking at the experience of other European countries with their car scrapping schemes which it’s hoped will drive consumer demand for new cars.
He announced plans to launch manufacturing insight focusing on encouraging young people into the sector. However, he admitted that the Government’s role was to look after “all the people” and said that it was not the Government’s role to save every individual job.
Despite the economic downturn the bullish Business Secretary said: “We drove the first Industrial Revolution and will drive the next one.”
At the event, Birmingham Post editor Marc Reeves presented a communique to the Business Secretary. The strategy was drawn up at an unprecedented summit this week at the ICC where 200 delegates from business, industry, politics and academia heard from Jaguar Land Rover chief executive Dave Smith, Unite leader Tony Woodley and Birmingham Business School director David Bailey, about the parlous state of the sector on which up to 100,000 jobs in the West Midlands depend.
The overwhelming message from the summit, organised by the Birmingham Post, Birmingham City Council, the Birmingham Chamber, Marketing Birmingham and the NEC Group, was that proposals made by the Government on manufacturing support were not detailed or wide-ranging enough, and more needs to be done if giants like JLR are going to survive.
CBI boss Richard Lambert – also speaking before the event – agreed there was a concern about how the Government’s aid package was to reach the companies that needed it.
“The Government is going in the right direction but now it is time to deliver,” he said. “A priority for manufacturing has to be restoring the flow of credit to stabilise business and begin recovery.”
The Government’s £1.3 billion aid package was “complex and not well-communicated. This is all about confidence and people need explanations, reassurance and a sense of direction.”
Mr Lambert said the Government also needed to spell out the direction the post-recession economy would take, the longer-term vision needed to focus on manufacturing, skills and training, and the tax and regulation regime needed to ensure the country competes.
The meeting last night came as the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders revealed new car sales had dropped more than 30 per cent in January compared to the same time in 2007. But Jaguar bucked the trend, with sales up 55 per cent for the same period, supporters claiming it was still very much a sound business that needs to be supported. Of JLR and its recent media coverage, Dave Smith said: “What I recognise is a company which is the UK’s biggest automotive exporter whose sales grew by 30 per cent in the last five years and whose brands are desired from Milan to Moscow, from Birmingham to Beijing.”