Former trade minister Digby, Lord Jones of Birmingham has called on the Government to get behind the automotive sector in today’s Budget and introduce a raft of measures to keep the struggling industry afloat.
Sir Digby also said the West Midlands would be in “poll position” to help the UK trade its way out of recession thanks to the knowledge-based manufacturing industries it is home to.
Speaking ahead of an engagement to address the Birmingham Civic Society, where he talked to guests from Birmingham’s business community about the importance of civic unity and civic society, Sir Digby said he hoped the Chancellor Alistair Darling would get behind the car-making industry in today’s Budget.
“It is important that people don’t see any help as a bail out – this is not a bail out, these are fabulous companies. It is a function of the economy that these companies have problems.”
He reiterated calls from the sector for a job subsidy scheme which would help UK industry retain its staff during the downturn and prevent a loss of skilled labour to other sectors and countries.
Sir Digby is taking part in a march in support of the industry to be held in Birmingham next month which will call for a UK wage subsidy to help firms forced to introduce lay-offs and short-time working during the current downturn.
Sir Digby, the former CBI Director-General, will march with his one-time adversary Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley, whose union is organising the march, to highlight the issue.
“In all my years I never thought I would find myself on a march with Tony Woodley of Unite but on this point about job subsidies for skilled people he is absolutely right.
“When the good times come back and manufacturing companies are looking for people but they have all cleared off to the public sector, then we will have a situation where they will make this stuff in India and China.
“We are asking this government to take up their part in the partnership where manufacturers have introduced short times working and employers are taking less money.”
He also called for the introduction of a vehicle scrappage scheme, measures to stimulate the market for credit finance to help people buy cars and more support for exporting companies via UK Trade and Investment.
“What we must do as a country is trade our way out of this issue and Birmingham and the West Midlands are absolutely in poll position to be the place where that starts.
“To get that to work we need skilled people making knowledge-based goods that sell around the world.
“We have got them – the automotive sector and the aerospace sector are very big in the West Midlands.
“Now what we need is to make sure the government gets behind the exporters and the government gets behind the skilled people. Then the people of Birmingham and the West Midlands can take their pride and turn it into helping not only themselves but also the country.”
Sir Digby said he was looking at the subject of civic responsibility in his talk to the Birmingham Civic Society.
“We have got into a position where people are saying we don’t need do to take responsibilty. People just blame it on ‘them’. I would love to hear from ‘them’.”
He added Birmingham had a strong civic tradition and a track record or doing things for itself.
“We have not been the subject of huge handouts like Manchester or Liverpool and we have not had the same long entrenched period of one particular party. Birmingham has always been a very DIY city.”