Midlands business bosses were yesterday accused of stabbing manufacturers in the back in a row over sending more work abroad.
Small firms champion Russell Luckock, head of Birmingham presswork group AE Harris, hit out in the wake of a letter from the chamber, the city council and the Manufacturing Advisory Service West Midlands urging firms - where appropriate - to embrace offshoring.
Mr Luckock branded the missive a "disgrace". The document is seeking to drum up support for a Birmingham Manufacturing Network meeting on the subject set for January 15 at the chamber.
It states: "The global economy offers significant opportunities to increase the competitiveness of your business.
"Offshoring - relocating all or part of your business processes overseas - is now a realistic option for more and more companies, whether large or small, manufacturer or service sector.
"Offshoring can help your firm become significantly leaner and more competitive. But the risks involved can also be high. Decisions are complex, with a wide range of factors to consider.
"At the next meeting of the Birmingham Manufacturing Network we want to help you explore how offshoring can benefit your business."
The meeting will examine the key issues via a business game and fictional business, with experts on hand to respond to questions.
The letter is signed by David Wright, chief executive of MASWM, Veronica Docherty, head of economic strategy, Birmingham City Council, and Jerry Blackett, chief executive, Birmingham Chamber of Commerce.
Mr Luckock, who has spent much of the past decade and more championing small firms and doing his best to retain British skills against an increasing trend to send work to so-called cheaper countries such as China, India and Eastern Europe, charged: "I cannot imagine what Jerry Blackett and the others are doing lending support to what is in effect stabbing us in the back.
"The last thing we should be doing is putting more stuff offshore. It will crucify British skills and we will end up as a nation of assemblers and packers."
He said it was "dreadful" to hear the chamber of
commerce, an organisation his company had been a member of since the 19th Century, advocate such views.
Indeed it was particularly galling because it came amidst the first signs that firms were becoming disillusioned with offshoring, in some cases bringing work back to this country.
And he called for those who had toughed it out to maintain their businesses in the West Midlands to stick to their guns.
Mr Blackett denied he was out of line.
He said: "We would certainly not encourage offshoring to the detriment of the West Midlands' manufacturing sector. What we are saying is that some manufacturers may find it advantageous to source some components from overseas. This in turn could make them more competitive in what is now a global market.
"Such a strategy has proved a lifeline for some local firms in recent years, enabling them to retain the high value-added aspects - such as design and sales/service support - of their operations in this country.
"At the same time the letter points out that there are risks to outsourcing and that manufacturers would do well to take advice before making the move. It will not be right for everyone.
"This is not a new scenario. The Chamber has helped many manufacturers prosper by staying in touch with market developments such as this."
Mr Wright said: "We have to be realistic in how we view the whole question of offshore activity. There is no doubt it remains a threat, but equally it can also be seen as an opportunity to become more efficient, strike joint ventures and enter new markets.
"What we have to do in the UK is ensure that we retain the value added work and the high quality jobs and sometimes this may mean looking outside the domestic marketplace for parts of your activity. There are a number of firms who have done so and, in turn, have seen their local operations prosper." :