I want to focus on the need to boost skills and jobs in our country, especially in manufacturing, following last week’s Budget. That is especially pertinent as we begin the process of leaving the EU.
It is unsurprising that, in a constituency-wide Brexit listening exercise I conducted, Nissan, which is based in my constituency, dominated, especially in terms of trade, investment, jobs and skills. Last week’s Budget was the perfect opportunity for the Chancellor to lay the foundations for strong economic growth that is resilient to any storms we may weather during the EU negotiations, but, sadly, we were left wanting. The announcements we did get on skills did not go far enough, and they must be placed in the context of the Government’s wider approach to education and skills.
Since 2010, we have seen the further education budget cut by 14% in real terms. That is a cash reduction from £3.18 billion in 2010-11 to £2.94 billion in 2015-16. That is compounded by the fact that the non-apprenticeship adult skills budget has been depleted by 54%. However, that negligent approach by the Government has not scuppered the innovative work by great employers in my constituency. Only last Friday, I was honoured to open Unipres’s new training academy, which will help to boost the skills of our local workforce by offering much-needed apprenticeship opportunities in engineering and manufacturing. It goes without saying that manufacturing is symbiotic with the north-east. We are the country’s makers and builders—I am pleased that Stoke colleagues are not here to shout me down—due in part to the innate talents of the people in our region and the skills we inherently have within us to manufacture with high quality and high productivity.
I like to call my constituency the manufacturing hub of our region, perhaps the country, with the likes of Nissan, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Unipres, Rayovac and Gestamp, to name but a few, all based there. The manufacturing presence in our region will only be strengthened with the creation of the IAMP—International Advanced Manufacturing Park—which will be based not only in my constituency but that of my neighbour, my hon. Friend Mr Hepburn. However, the success of the IAMP and manufacturers in my constituency—from the large, some of which I have mentioned, right down to small and medium-sized enterprises such as AdFab Ltd, Washington Components, and PFF Packaging—depend on the Government strengthening their approach to skills and jobs. This is especially important with Brexit on the horizon.
There is one way in which Ministers could easily help to bolster our manufacturing, not only in the north-east, but across the country—through catapults. I am not talking about the ancient war machines but instead
“a network of world-leading centres designed to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in specific areas and help drive future economic growth.”
A number of catapults have been started across the country, yet there seem to be none for materials. This means there is no support for the innovation and development of materials such as steel, ceramics, glass and plastics, all of which are crucial to the dominant industry in Sunderland—the automotive sector. If we were to see a catapult for materials like the industry-supported proposal by the Materials Processing Institute in Redcar that received cross-party endorsement in January from the all-party parliamentary group on steel, this could have a positive impact on the whole of the manufacturing industry. However, it would especially help the Nissan supply chain, which Nissan has said needs re-powering.