Appearing on The Leaders Council Podcast, Andrea Wilson, director at Bedfordshire-based sub-contract machining firm Hone-All Precision Limited, highlights the Support UK Manufacturing campaign, which seeks to improve, promote, and secure the long-term future of the UK manufacturing and engineering sector.
Andrea Wilson is a business leader who for the previous 25 years had dedicated much time serving on a multitude of panels and boards lobbying for change in how the government looks at supporting SMEs, setting policy around support systems, and carrying out apprenticeships and training.
Recalling her experiences on The Leaders Council Podcast, Andrea explained: “In most cases, those panels and boards that I have been a part of have been mostly made up of very large businesses who employ tens of thousands across several sites in several different countries. They hold all the cards when going to government and saying that their supply chain needs something.
“However, these people aren’t working in that supply chain day in day out like manufacturing SMEs. Around 99 per cent of manufacturing and engineering businesses are SMEs and yet we have very little representation or very little voice in government.
“Lee Rowley MP does a fantastic job as minister for industry, but his resources are limited when he is one man and has a constituency to run on top of that. Plus, his industry role is broader than just engineering and manufacturing, so when he gets time to dedicate to his ministerial position, he is more likely to visit companies that will give him the broadest spectrum and they are the larger employers.”
To this end, Andrea and her business have joined the growing list of firms that have thrown their weight behind the Support UK Manufacturing campaign, which is lobbying for a new ministerial role to be formed which will offer SMEs in the UK engineering and manufacturing arena a voice in government.
“SME manufacturers and engineers don't want more support; we want better support. We want the support that is available to be more appropriate and applicable. For this reason, several SME business leaders have rallied behind the Support UK Manufacturing banner and we’re lobbying for a minister for manufacturing role to be established to focus on giving our businesses the voice we need in government.
“What we need to see is MPs and policymakers to know what’s going on in businesses like ours that are employing five, 10, 20 or 50 people, rather than focusing on just big firms."
One key issue that Andrea particularly wishes to bring to the attention of government is what she refers to as a fundamental problem with the funding model for SMEs to invest in training. The system, she explained, is more conducive to larger firms and is prohibitive to smaller companies that could be helping upskill people to address longstanding skills shortages in the sector.
Andrea said: “The very best places to train people and upskill people to close the skills gap in our sector is within industry. We have the equipment in our businesses, and we have the qualified engineers, but we can't access funding to actually train people in-house. There may be a spare £1,000 here or there for the Kickstart Programme or hiring apprentices, but if we had something like the R&D tax credit that we could apply to training, then we could afford to take unskilled people on a three-year apprenticeship all in-house and monitored.
"As it is, colleges and training providers soak up most of the funding because of how the funding model is structured. It simply doesn’t work for the likes of us, but we cannot get the message out there. This is why our campaign is so important.”
More information on Support UK Manufacturing’s campaign for a dedicated minister for manufacturing can be accessed here.
A formal UK government and parliamentary petition has also been launched to lobby for the new ministerial position. The petition can be accessed and signed here.
Andrea Wilson’s full interview on The Leaders Council Podcast can be seen below.
Photo by Rob Lambert on Unsplash