We need to be more patriotic

THIS part of the world, more perhaps than any other region of the country, knows the importance of making things.

Our town’s prosperity was built on manufacturing and engineering.

Our heritage of manufacturing and engineering shouldn’t be consigned to a museum.

I’m not suggesting that things should stay the same because, in the fierce global competitive environment, that won’t allow British and Hartlepudlian firms to prosper.

But there is a very strong sense here that a thriving manufacturing sector – designing, engineering, innovating and making real products and services that will be sold to the rest of the world – is essential if we are to re-balance the British economy away from too few sectors and two few regions.

This week, Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader, made an important and significant speech on the need for manufacturing.

As the Shadow Minister for Manufacturing, this matter is obviously very important to me, largely because I see, as Hartlepool’s MP, the rich heritage and tremendous prospects that a thriving manufacturing sector could provide to this country.

If we put manufacturing more at the heart of a re-balanced economy, our country’s prosperity would be more sustainable.

Ed mentioned in his speech, which has rightly received an awful lot of coverage, the need for the Government to start showing more pride and patriotism towards manufacturing and engineering in Britain.

We have world class companies and British firms who can, and do, compete with anybody around the world. But as a country we often have a culture of failing to celebrate success.

We shouldn’t be embarrassed about stating we need more patriotism in our economic policy.

This sort of patriotism, a pride in British excellence, is rooted in the belief that British firms can be world class and deserve the backing of Government to allow them to compete.

In many respects it is not just letting British firms have a level playing field, it is allowing them on to the pitch to compete in the first place.

What do I mean by this?

Well, you may have seen reports in the last fortnight, in which the Royal Navy awarded a half a billion pounds contract for fuel tanker vessels to South Korea.

The Government has explained this by stating that no British firms applied for the contract.

The Defence Procurement Minister is reported to have said “we don’t build tankers in the UK”.

How can you have a Government backing British businesses to the hilt when you have that sort of attitude?

Why on earth weren’t ministers in the Department for Business working closely with shipbuilders and their supply chains to ensure that British firms were informed of events with any obstacles to tendering for contracts ironed out beforehand?

A half a billion pounds contract has been lost to the UK, but many times that money will also be lost in possible job losses, unemployment benefit paid and the migration of skills overseas, skills we never see back in the UK.

Ed Miliband’s call for patriotism is not a call for protectionism or a way of propping up lame duck industries.

It is, however, an important advance on the debate to ensure that the Government constantly backs British business in a joined up and co-ordinated way.