Simon Fell is the MP for Barrow & Furness after being elected last year.
The recent employment statistics highlight the economic challenge that already exists as a result of the Coronavirus crisis.
In my constituency of Barrow & Furness, we have seen a rise of 53.3% claiming Universal Credit. As the Chancellor has rightly said, this is not unexpected given the enormity of the challenge we are currently facing, but it does point to the need to restart and recover the economy as soon as is safe to do so.
The tentative unwinding of lockdown measures is therefore welcome in constituencies such as mine. Not least as the consequences of poverty risk doing far more lasting damage to my constituents, their health and life chances, than Coronavirus ever will.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that austerity will not be the answer to this – something we should all applaud. Instead, we must start where we meant to begin and double down on our agenda of levelling up constituencies such as my own. We should be aggressively backing UK manufacturing, science and green tech – and the skills clusters which they enable – as a key plank of our recovery.
A revitalised industrial strategy is crucial to delivering for the North. When industrial strategies work, they really deliver, providing a much-needed framework for reinvesting in schools, families, communities, and infrastructure.
In my own constituency, the BAE shipyard which produces the Astute and Dreadnought class submarines for the UK, directly employs around 9,500 people. However, what is less appreciated is the extent of the supply chain that this enables across the UK, all in support of this national endeavour.
Furness thrives thanks to this strong employer and the adaptable skills it fosters. Dozens of specialist manufacturers now exist in the area as a result. A stone’s throw away, Furness College serves an ever-growing appetite for good, ready-to-hit-the-ground-running, employees with the right skills for our area. Demand drives demand.
In Furness that growth has been, to a degree, organic – pulled together over decades. But a more structured approach would accelerate this in other sectors too.
As an example, alongside submarines, Furness’ coast also hosts the second largest offshore windfarm in the world. We have a gas terminal; we are the perfect site for a tidal barrage, which could produce up to 5% of the UK’s energy need through renewable methods; and we share a coast with Sellafield in Copeland. Wrap an industrial strategy around this and it’s not hard to see that the south coast of Cumbria could be empowered to sit at the centre of a renewable energy revolution.
Coronavirus has given us reason to pause and assess the merits of onshoring supply chains to improve our resilience. Defence is a sector that, largely due to security reasons, is ahead of the curve on this front. We should look now to see where other sectors may follow. This isn’t about wrapping ourselves in the flag, but rather building on idea of a liberated Britain that actively trades out and into the world with confidence.
Philip Dunne MP wrote an excellent report for the MOD in 2018 on prosperity and procurement: Growing the contribution of defence to UK prosperity. It is apposite to take on board that report’s recommendations, and appreciate the value of the defence pound to the UK.
Covid-19 has rightly made us all question who we view to be key workers. The health service and care sector, as well as our public sector workers and many others, rightly deserve praise for their response to this crisis. It is my hope that this pandemic also makes us rethink essential skills and capabilities, introducing longer term thinking and local industrial strategies.
We are blessed in this country with some of the most skilled engineers and manufacturers in the world. We have seen this in their response to the pandemic. Whether it is the coordination of the response to the Ventilator Challenge, or the extensive production of PPE across the country for our front-line services, our manufacturing companies have been at the heart of our response.
These same manufacturing companies can also be the heart of our recovery. We should be using large manufacturing bases to lead on track and trace to get people back to work, ensuring a safe working environment. This will mobilise our already extensive supply chains, thereby growing the economy and public confidence at the same time.
And we should be looking at successes amongst our leading manufacturers to inform and further cultivate our science and green tech sectors, building industrial strategies around what works, and learning from what hasn’t in the past.
Manufacturing is one of the most productive sectors in our economy. Let’s back it to revitalise Britain post-Covid.