Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, delivering a speech for the Make UK conference at the EEF, said It’s a pleasure to be speaking again to the artists formerly known as the EEF, or Make UK as you have now become.
Hailing from a family of engineers, I always look forward to coming here and meeting many of you.
I take a very close interest in manufacturing. It’s the beating heart of our economy.
For those employed in the sector, manufacturing doesn’t just offer a good job that pays well, it offers creative and satisfying work.
But manufacturing needs the right environment to flourish: high quality infrastructure, a skilled workforce, and open and stable trading relationships.
I’m going to talk about each of these in turn because it’s clear that something is going badly wrong.
Last week’s GDP figures confirmed that our manufacturing sector is mired in recession.
Output has fallen for six consecutive months – the worst run since the depths of the financial crisis in 2008-9.
No doubt the uncertainty generated by the government’s shambolic handling of Brexit has had an impact, as has weaker global demand.
But it’s too convenient for the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, to brandish these as excuses for the Tories’ woeful economic record.
The truth is, the prolonged slump in manufacturing is part of a broader story: a weak economy limping through the most feeble and protracted recovery in British history.
And the blame for that lies squarely with the government.
Nine years of unnecessary austerity have caused untold damage to our economy and strangled investment, leaving us with crumbling infrastructure, a productivity crisis, and anaemic growth.
This is all the more painful because there is another way.
A government prepared to invest in our economy and pursue an active industrial strategy could bring about a renaissance in manufacturing.
And that is what the next Labour government will do.
It starts with infrastructure. Our dilapidated transport, communications, and energy infrastructure is desperately in need of an upgrade.
Labour will unleash a massive programme of investment with a National Transformation Fund delivering £250 billion of direct capital expenditure on infrastructure and R&D.
We will ensure this investment benefits every region and nation of our country, not just London and the South East.
And we will establish a National Investment Bank to make available a further £250 billion over 10 years in the form of patient capital lent to small and medium-sized enterprises in line with the priorities of our industrial strategy, providing funding for green industries and the technologies of the future.
The current government’s failure to invest has left us poorly equipped to deal with the profound changes that are already upon us.
Where is the industrial strategy to prepare our economy for life outside the EU?
What’s being done to harness the benefits of automation without threatening the livelihoods of millions?
How can we mobilise industry to help avert the destruction of our climate?
The government has no answers to any of these questions.
Let me give you an example of the change we need.
To avoid climate catastrophe we have to reduce our net emissions to zero by 2050 at the latest.
That’s not going to happen by itself.
It requires large-scale public investment into renewable energy and home insulation, which will in turn create new opportunities for private enterprise.
This is not a burden. It’s an opportunity to kick-start a Green Jobs Revolution.
Labour’s plans will create at least 400,000 skilled, unionised jobs and bring about a seven-fold increase in offshore wind, double onshore wind, and triple solar power.
And these new manufacturing and engineering jobs will bring skills and opportunity to parts of the country that have been held back by decades of neglect.
As our Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey has said, this is about the jobs at the end of your road, from the Clyde to the Humber to the Mersey.
Technology and manufacturing don’t have to be a threat to the environment. Our responsibility is to develop the next generation of technology that will help us preserve our natural world.
Labour is committed to investing on a scale that will transform our economy. Those policies won huge public support at the general election 18 months ago. I’m disappointed that a small number of MPs yesterday decided to take a different path.
But this is an agenda which unites half a million Labour party members inside and outside parliament, along with millions of people across the country.
And we’ve been up front in saying that in return for that investment we will ask the largest businesses that can afford it to pay a bit more towards the common good.
Because the government’s corporation tax cuts haven’t increased investment and growth.
Indeed, the Conservatives have had nine years to fix the fundamentals of our economy, but have left it weak and unprepared for the future.
And just as they have failed to invest in infrastructure, so too have they failed to invest in skills.
I travel around the country all the time and I visit many manufacturers and other employers.
I’ve been struck by how often they tell me about the difficulty of recruiting skilled labour.
Of course, there are organisations and companies doing good work. Make UK’s own training and apprenticeship programmes are excellent.
I’ve visited Make UK’s training centre in Aston twice and I’ve been extremely impressed at the way young people are helped to get the best start to their working lives.
But as a country we are moving in the wrong direction. University fees, the scrapping of grants, and cuts to training have made education less accessible just when we need a highly skilled workforce more than ever.
So a great legacy of the next Labour government will be to reverse this trend with the creation of a National Education Service that makes education freely available to everyone whatever their age, from cradle to grave, just like the NHS is there for all of us.
I pay tribute to our Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, for the work she’s doing to drive this forward.
My great friend Tony Benn used to say that education should be like an escalator going alongside you throughout life that you can get on and off whenever you want.
What a wonderful way of putting it.
So today I am proud to announce the appointment of our Commission on Lifelong Learning to help make the principle of lifelong learning a reality.
The Commission will bring together 14 experts from across education – top names in their fields – including Make UK’s very own Chief Economist Seamus Nevin.
It is co-chaired by the former Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, and the General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union, Dave Ward.
And I want to thank Gordon Marsden, Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Further Education and Skills, whose passion for lifelong learning has been crucial to bringing this together.
The Commission’s task is to devise an inclusive system of adult education to be implemented by the next Labour government that will transform the lives of millions and reskill our economy.
Lifelong learning will be available to everyone no matter their background, employment status, or previous education.
The Commission will make detailed proposals on how to integrate qualifications, introduce a credits system to make qualifications transferable, and make it as easy as possible for people to pick up or pause their studies at times that work for them.
It will break down barriers between different types of education.
The opportunity to retrain at any point in life will help close the gap between the skills people have and the skills our economy needs.
We know that new industries evolve and old industries collapse, technological advance can create great anxiety for people.
So for me, the National Education Service and its commitment to lifelong learning is a form of social security.
Under a Labour government workers will never again be left feeling discarded because there will be an industrial strategy creating good, well-paid jobs and training to help workers learn new skills.
It makes no sense for people to only be educated for the first quarter of their life and then work for the rest of their days with outdated or insufficient qualifications.
It’s a waste of talent and a waste of potential. Let’s give people the skills to flourish.
And I strongly believe there should be genuine parity between vocational education and academic education. We have to end the outdated grammar school mentality of looking down on someone who does a vocational course and looking up to someone who does an academic course. I see the skills of electrical work of computer work of design work learned through vocational courses as just as valuable as academic courses taken at university.
We need all of those skills in our society.
I remember from my own school days, being told by my art teacher who didn’t appreciate some of my more abstract painting “You’re no good at art, you can do woodwork instead”, as if woodwork was inferior. In Germany, where they really value engineering, they say: “You’re a clever kid – get down the metal workshop.’’ So education must be designed to get the best out of everybody and available to all, delivered through colleges, universities, trade unions and directly via employers.
If a Labour government is going to make this big investment in skills that will have benefits for business, then we do ask something in return: that as employers you step up to invest in your workforce too.
Last week I visited the gear manufacturer Beard and Fitch in Harlow, and met Carol, a supervisor who is partially sighted. She was doing the final checking and polishing of the gears, and she had been provided with big screens to help her do her work. That’s a sensible employer who has made an investment in someone who was very good at her job. And it was paying off.
I said earlier that as well as a skilled workforce and high-quality infrastructure, manufacturing needs a stable trading relationship to thrive.
Which brings us on to Brexit.
Earlier this month I wrote to the Prime Minister laying out Labour’s alternative plan based around a permanent customs union with a British say in future trade deals, a strong relationship with the single market and full guarantees on workers’ rights, consumer standards and environmental protections.
Later this week I will travel to Brussels to discuss it with Michel Barnier and others.
It’s a plan we are convinced could win the support of parliament, be negotiated with the EU and help bring the country together. It has been widely welcomed as a way of breaking the impasse. So I call on the government and MPs across parliament to end the Brexit uncertainty and back Labour’s credible alternative plan.
It’s regrettable that so far the Prime Minister has instead chosen to stick with an approach that has already been rejected, refusing to move from her divisive and damaging red lines. Business investment is falling and confidence is evaporating due to the uncertainty she has created.
And let’s have no pretence that if the Prime Minister could only get her deal through parliament then certainty would be restored. The Political Declaration she negotiated talks of, and I quote, “a spectrum of different outcomes for administrative processes as well as checks and controls.”
“A spectrum of different outcomes.” What use is that when making investment decisions?
If the Prime Minister is unable to adopt a sensible deal because it would split the Tories, then there needs to be a general election. Without it we will keep all options on the table, including the option of a public vote.
The country cannot be taken over the cliff edge for the sake of Tory party unity. The government is running down the clock in an attempt to blackmail MPs with the threat of crashing out without a deal. This is extraordinarily reckless. It puts our manufacturing sector your industries at risk.
Labour has consistently advocated a comprehensive UK-EU customs union to deliver frictionless trade and protect supply chains that stretch across the continent. Disrupting those supply chains would threaten good businesses and skilled jobs that we can’t afford to lose.
Just take the car industry.
The decision by Nissan to pull investment from its Sunderland plant was just the thin end of the wedge. Jaguar Land-Rover is said to be stockpiling parts in preparation for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, but can only prepare for days, not weeks of disruption because the company uses 25 million separate parts a day. Ford has reportedly warned the Prime Minister that it could cease production in the UK, entirely threatening 13,000 jobs, and has said that ‘no deal’ would be, quote, “catastrophic for the UK’s auto industry.”
And although not directly linked to Brexit today we learn that Honda is planning to close its plant in Swindon at the cost of 3,500 jobs. That is devastating news for those workers, their families and for the local economy. It’s bad news too for all the small and medium sized businesses in the supply chain. And while the Government is boasting it has secured a trade deal with the Faroe Islands, it is doing nothing to protect skilled jobs and industry here in Britain.
Of course concerns about a ‘no deal’ crash go well beyond the car industry. Take food and drink, which is actually the UK’s largest manufacturing sector. It needs frictionless trade for perishable goods, where time is of the essence. Or steel. Half the steel we produce is exported most of it to the EU. A disastrous ‘no deal’ Brexit would mean trade restrictions on virtually all steel companies’ export markets.
And while the big household names get all the media attention, it’s the small and medium-sized manufacturers who will find it most burdensome to adjust to new customs arrangements.
Brexit has crystallised a choice about the kind of economy we want. On the one hand, the harsh economic environment fostered by the Conservatives: low investment, low productivity, low growth and a damaging trade deal with Donald Trump. On the other, Labour’s investment-led approach, underpinned by a close relationship with our European neighbours, in a rebalanced economy that no longer privileges those who lend and speculate over those who make things.
These are anxious times for manufacturers. But the future doesn’t have to be one of decline. With a government that believes in and supports industry, manufacturing will be the engine of innovation in the green economy of the future.
Infrastructure skills certainty. That’s what manufacturing needs. That’s what only Labour will deliver.