Failures by governments on both sides of the border to develop an industrial strategy with manufacturing at its heart are holding back Scotland’s economy and will deepen the country’s skills crisis, the head of Scotland’s biggest union will warn today (Monday 18 April).
Moving the motion on manufacturing on behalf of the Scottish Trade Union Congress’ general council, as it meets in Dundee, Pat Rafferty,
Unite’s Scottish secretary,
said that a policy of active industrial engagement by both the Scottish and Westminster governments is urgently needed to free the country from the ‘ghosts’ of its economic past.
With economic activity in manufacturing and construction yet to recover to pre-crash levels, Scotland is increasingly reliant on the services sector where exports have risen from 24 percent in 2002 to 38 percent in 2014. In contrast Scotland’s exports from manufacturing have been broadly flat for over 13 years.
Pat Rafferty also warned that without an urgent change of approach, the opportunity presented by the new apprenticeship levy to reinvigorate Scotland’s skills base will be lost as the ‘lion’s share’ of funding will continue to go to support lower paid, lower skilled work.
He said: “Countries like China are involved in subsidising and bailing out their production industries to the tune of tens of billions, while in Scotland – and across the UK – our governments sit back and do next to nothing.
“But unless both governments establish a framework to ensure that companies and workers are properly supported to grow Scotland will not be celebrating the successes of tomorrow, rather it will be stuck with the ghosts of our industrial past.
“The Scottish government may think it has a strategy but it’s ineffective and weak. The £70 million investment for our manufacturing sector, while welcome, does not go far enough and there is only minimal detail on a number of key challenges such as supply-chains, investment and skills.
“17 years ago Scotland employed 320,000 in manufacturing. Today it is 200,000. These figures are a startling reminder of the failure to develop a strategic industrial agenda for the sector focused on investment, skills, infrastructure and innovation.
“But this cannot be a case of simply blaming Westminster because the Scottish parliament has had the opportunity to be strategic about supporting manufacturing over the last 12 years - and it has fallen short.
“Of course there are success stories such as the hybrid technology bus-build by Alexander Dennis in Falkirk, but such successes are the rarity rather than the norm because sustained support is hard to come by. Rather support is often only forthcoming when companies enter into financial difficulty or grants are used to persuade multinationals to remain in Scotland.
“With the apprenticeship levy we have an opportunity to begin to address the challenges facing Scotland’s manufacturing. In fact we must not pass this up for in Scotland today there is a larger proportion of employers facing skills gaps than anywhere else in the UK.
“There is a strong case for arguing that Scotland should be able to use the levy monies as it sees fit to grow our economy for the long-term. That means directing funds towards manufacturing to actively boost high level skills in the emerging workforce.
“The lion’s share presently goes to other sectors. There are three times as many retail apprentices for example than those in manufacturing. This has to change or we simply will not grow our economy or our skills base. Moreover, we will be letting our young people down.”
Unite Scotland is calling for a fundamental reorientation of Scotland’s skills strategy, with funds for apprenticeship academies. The union is also pressing for strategic sectoral forums to drive forward investment, productivity, skills levels, procurement and negotiating wages.
For further information contact Elizabeth Cairns on 07736 722 380 or Pauline Doyle on 07976 832 861
Notes to editors:
Unite Scotland is the country’s biggest and most diverse trade union with 150,000 members across the economy. The union is led in Scotland by Pat Rafferty.