CUTLER’S FEAST: MPs slammed for vague promises and outdated view of manufacturing

A top minister defended the Conservatives’ record on manufacturing at the Cutlers’ Feast - a day after British Steel went into administration.

Friday, 24th May 2019, 08:11 am
Updated Sunday, 26th May 2019, 10:04 am
The Master Cutler Nick Cragg, David Lidington MP, members of the Cutlers’ Company and soldiers from the Yorkshire Regiment at the Cutlers’ Feast at the Cutlers’ Hall in Sheffield.

David Lidington, minister for the Cabinet Office, also had to respond to a list of failings from Senior Warden, Nicholas Williams, who said politicians had to “to update their understanding and recognise the central importance of manufacturing not only to local regions such as Sheffield and Yorkshire but to the wider UK economy as well.”

Mr Lidington spoke at the 383rd Cutlers’ Feast - a day before Prime Minister Theresa May announced she would leave office on June 7 after failing to deliver Brexit.

David Lidington's speech at the Cutlers' Feast

He said: “Steel is a crucial part of our British heritage – and its future success. It’s a vital part of the economy of this region. And that is why the government is committed to supporting the steel sector in every way possible.”

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But he insisted Government had been bound by “legal parameters” preventing it from giving more financial support to British Steel.

He listed support including rules to stop steel dumping, steel procurement guidance, publishing details of upcoming infrastructure projects, compensation to manage energy costs and funding for new technologies.

In his speech the Senior Warden - who will be the next Master Cutler - criticised the UK’s “sky high” energy prices which had “long undermined competitiveness.”

He added: “Other countries shield their industries more comprehensively from the huge costs of renewables subsidies, other countries don’t have a carbon price twice as high as the rest of the EU, other countries minimise transmission costs for the most energy intensive industry.

“The UK Government recognises the problem, indeed the 2017 Conservative Party Manifesto pledged to deliver the lowest energy prices in Europe. But we still have seen no action towards actually delivering that.

“This has to change, delivering this ambition has to become a central focus of the industrial strategy, not just a vague promise in a White Paper.”

He also said planned £2.5bn public sector spend on steel in the next five years was a “massive opportunity” for producers.

But too often UK manufacturers missed out due to “poor process and procedure.”

He added: “There remains an increasing outdated understanding of what modern manufacturing actually is and which means policy makers have neglected the sector in the misguided belief that services, not manufacturing , is where the future potential for innovation and productivity growth lies.”

A TORY LEADERSHIP JOKE

Mr Lidington opened his speech with a nod to the Prime Minister's woes.

“I have to admit that as a Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I received an invitation to speak in Yorkshire with some trepidation! But your warm welcome has put me at ease, and I have to say: it’s a true pleasure to be away from Westminster. At least here at the Cutlers’ Feast, the knives are only out for the loin of lamb.”