Manufacturing the way to Yorkshire's economic recovery?

Rolls Royce Trent Turbo fan Image copyright Other
Image caption The Rolls Royce Trent Turbo fan blade on display outside Westminster

For a couple of days this week a blade from a Rolls Royce "Trent" jet engine has been exhibited in a rather unusual setting.

The blade, floodlit at night, was on a plinth on an open space in Westminster's New Palace Yard with a backdrop of the House of Commons and Big Ben.

It is all part of an initiative from Sheffield University's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre to remind the government of the value of highly skilled engineering jobs.

Rolls Royce and Boeing are partners in the futuristic centre and its surrounding business park which has risen from the ruins of what used to be the British Steel Orgreave coking plant on the edge of Rotherham.

Economic powerhouse

It is a site synonymous with the 'old industries' of South Yorkshire.

It was a flash point during the year-long miners' strike in 1984 in what became the "Battle of Orgreave".

The display of what technological expertise can achieve was timed to coincide with the Research Centre's 10th birthday.

Latest figures show that manufacturing is still an economic powerhouse in the Yorkshire and the Humber region with a combined workforce of over 294,000 workers.

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Image caption The police confront striking miners at the Orgreave coke depot in 1984

At 11.7% of the workforce, the region has the second highest level of manufacturing jobs of any English region.

Only neighbouring East Midlands, with 13%, has a bigger manufacturing base.

Even Wales and Scotland have far fewer manufacturing jobs than Yorkshire and the Humber.

Yet there is clearly no room for complacency.

In the 12 months to March of this year the region saw 3,000 manufacturing jobs disappear across the region.

Other partial and full closures have yet to filter through to the statistics - including the 900 jobs losses announced in September at BAE's military jet manufacturing plant at Brough in East Yorkshire.

Regional investment

The government points to its initiatives to boost manufacturing jobs in Yorkshire and the Humber:

- support from the Regional Growth Fund;

- five Enterprise Zones earmarked for the region;

- more state-sponsored apprenticeships;

- pressure on the banks to lend more to manufacturers under the "Project Merlin" agreement.

This week it announced incentives for the development of off-shore wind farms which should finally convince German manufacturers Siemens to create thousands of jobs by building its turbine manufacturing plant on the north bank of the Humber.

Others are expected to follow.

Practical economics

The Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg used a speech to a business audience in Leeds last week to promote those manufacturer-friendly policies.

But his neighbouring MPs in South Yorkshire remain highly sceptical.

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Image caption Nick Clegg is promoting manufacturer-friendly policies to the business sector

As every single one of them is a Labour MP that is not particularly surprising, but they say their position comes from practical economics rather than polemic politics.

Memories of the coalition government cancelling a development loan promised by Gordon Brown to Sheffield Engineering company Forgemasters are still raw.

They point to the abolition of free-spending Regional Development Agencies like Yorkshire Forward and their financial muscle replaced with the far smaller resources of the Regional Growth Fund.