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March 5, 2012 10:31 pm
Ed Miliband will on Tuesday call for a government-backed “Made in Britain” mark to insert more patriotism into British economic policy, as all three parties attempt to convince a conference of industrialists of their commitment to UK manufacturing.
Mr Miliband is trying to persuade employers that Labour is serious about helping business, although his call for patriotic branding of UK goods may rekindle memories of Harold Wilson’s “I’m Backing Britain” campaign in the 1960s.
The Labour leader will insist there is nothing nostalgic about the idea.
“This is not about a backward-looking ‘Buy British’ campaign,” he will tell the Engineering Employers’ Federation. “W e can’t recognise or celebrate our strength in manufacturing unless we know what is designed, invented and made here.”
He looks back fondly to the brief period of active industrial strategy pursued by Lord Mandelson in the last Labour government from 2008-10, when he tried to provide backing for new industries and advanced manufacturing.
Initially, Vince Cable, business secretary, regarded Lord Mandelson’s approach as profligate, although he later accepted that some of the policies adopted by his predecessor were part of a worthwhile partnership between government and industry.
Mr Miliband is being urged by Tony Blair, former prime minister, to rebuild bridges with business and he will claim it is in the “patriotic” interest of government ministers to support the country’s industrial sector. He will say that he opposes protectionism, but add: “Too often opposition to protectionism became an excuse for believing the best way to help British business succeed was to stand aside.”
George Osborne, chancellor, will also address the EEF in one of his last economic speeches before the March 21 Budget. He is expected to say the outlook remains difficult but there are some encouraging signs and opportunities for British exporters.
Mr Osborne will also promise to give details in his Budget of his flagship scheme for boosting bank lending to business – the so-called credit-easing initiative.
The scheme, where the government provides low-cost finance to banks to lend to small companies, is proving difficult to construct, with Treasury officials trying to devise a plan that is worthwhile for banks but which is not so generous it falls foul of EU competition rules.
Separately, the conference will hear Mr Cable proclaim that new investment by Nissan in the north-east of England “vindicates the government’s decision to put support for manufacturing at the core of its economic strategy”.
“A generation ago the [UK] automotive sector appeared to be in irreversible decline, beset by strikes and poor management – but today it is a sector transformed,” he will say.
“Labour relations are constructive, even when tested during the recession. Companies and university research teams are working together on new technologies. The government is helping the industry to address skills gaps by funding apprenticeship places.”
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