British manufacturing was the star of the show in Chancellor George Osborne's Budget 2014 speech today (March 19th).
The Conservative politician brandished the red briefcase and told the public: "Yes, manufacturing is growing again, and jobs are being created across the country. So today we support manufacturers and back all regions of our country."
But how has Osborne's economic roadmap for the manufacturing industry resonated with those who speak for it? And are they convinced the slow recovery is going to be maintained? And furthermore, what does this mean for the growing additive manufacturing sector?
The main points aimed at supporting British manufacturing include boosting skills and investment, as well as reducing the rising cost of energy, which have struck a chord with many industry leaders - but it has not necessarily convinced everybody.
Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce John Longworth was positive, claiming the Chancellor "has delivered" the creation of wealth and jobs, and the discipline and focus UK business wants out of a post-recession Budget. Longworth cited the pledge to nurture the next generation's workforce as one of the most positive aspects of the 2014 Budget.
"With a huge confidence gap still separating employers from young job-seekers, we are very pleased to see the Chancellor heed our call to help firms take on and train tomorrow’s workforce," he said. "Overcoming that confidence gap means more investment in young people, more apprenticeships, and more jobs, which are critical with more than 900,000 16-to-24-year-olds still out of work.
"Osborne’s focus on investment, exports, house-building and economic resilience passes the business test. By making a better business environment his top priority, the Chancellor has recognised that successful and confident companies are the key to transforming Britain’s growing economic recovery into one that is felt in homes and on high streets."
Writing for thejournal.co.uk, North-East Regional Director at EEF, the manufacturers' organisation Andrew Tuscher agreed, stating that manufacturers in this neck of the woods should be "delighted" by the news, sentiment EEF Chief Economist Lee Hopley echoes.
"We have always said that to achieve a resilient recovery the government must back manufacturing and we've seen that from this Budget," said Tuscher.
"We now have some of the building blocks in place which will help rebalance the economy. But, as the Chancellor suggests, there’s still more work to be done. We now need to take steps which will lead to longer-term solutions beyond current spending and electoral cycles. This will finally give business the predictability and certainty to encourage the successive rounds of investment our economy needs."
Hopley stated that doubling investment in manufacturing will free up spending for new machinery - perhaps encouraging more manufacturing organisations to invest in additive manufacturing hardware - with the Office for Budget Responsibility estimating this could pull in some £1 billion in investment.
"Getting investment going now is critical, but sustaining that is vital too. To build an internationally competitive system when these temporary measures expire needs a comprehensive review of the capital allowances regime," she said.
EEF's Head of Climate & Environment Policy Gareth Stace welcomed the energy cost measures in turn, saying this move shows the government understands how high energy prices are denting British manufacturing competitiveness.
"The freezing of the Carbon Price Floor will translate into greater clarity for manufacturers’ energy bills through to 2020 and provide much needed investment certainty. The Renewables Obligation compensation for energy intensive industries will also help to level the playing field these companies need to compete effectively with others around the globe and, keep production here in the UK," he said.
But not everybody was convinced. Research Associate at the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Sheffield Craig Berry commented on theconversation.com said that, while manufacturing will welcome the support for lower energy costs with Osborne's endorsement that such measures have boosted manufacturing in the US, many European countries have higher energy costs - and, indeed, wages - than the UK and US, but still maintain stronger manufacturing sectors.
Berry also noted that advanced manufacturing - within which additive manufacturing sits - may not benefit as much as more traditional manufacturing methods.
"We remain dependent on the strategy for manufacturing detailed in the coalition’s 2011 plan for growth," he said. "The 2011 plan for growth sought to boost advanced manufacturing, but more recently declining wages have led the government to turned to low-skilled manufacturing, as it seeks to convince British firms to reshore their production back to the UK from overseas.
"The one welcome development in recent years has been a greater focus on university-based manufacturing research centres – mentioned in the budget, although it is not clear whether any new funding will be made available."