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Bob highlights the work of the Manufacturing Technology Centre at Ansty during a Parliamentary debate on the Aerospace industry

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): I want to talk about two things: the importance of the aerospace industry, not only in its own standing, but as part of our industrial base; and the contribution and potential of the manufacturing technology centre at Ansty, near Coventry. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) for obtaining the debate, which is an important one.

Other hon. Members have talked about how successful the aerospace industry is, and the figures speak for themselves—100,000 direct jobs, £24.2 billion of annual earnings, 75% of which are earned from export markets, and 17% of the world market, second only to the United States. In no other area of industry do we hold such a pre-eminent position. It is not one that we can afford to give away.

There are too many people in this country who think that we are a post-industrial society, and not all of them take that view from a state of ignorance: there are pre-eminent economists—we had one at the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs the other day—who think that we can earn our living in the world by providing financial services and nothing else. I fail to see how that model will ever be successful. We shall not keep our people gainfully employed, and pay our way in the world, off the back of financial services, no matter how successful the sector is—and it has blotted its copybook big-time in the past couple of years.

In my time in the Ministry of Defence I learned the importance of the aerospace industry, not only to the industrial base, but to our ability to produce the wherewithal to defend ourselves and play a role in the world—something that should not be underestimated. The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White), who has now left us, talked about the need for an industrial policy. Will the Minister tell us whether he agrees that there is a need for such a policy? There are people who are worried, because of some of the views and attitudes that he has expressed in the past, about his arrival in the Department and whether there will be an attempt to push us into a laissez-faire, devil-take-the-hindmost situation. It is a real concern, and I hope that he will take the opportunity to lay that fear to rest.

The aerospace industry is important in itself—but it is not fully appreciated that that is not its only importance. The synergies across the different parts of our far too small industrial base are also very important, not necessarily to the primes—the big companies, the likes of which my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) has been discussing—but to small and medium-sized enterprises, and second and third-tier suppliers in the Coventry and Warwickshire area. They do not do aerospace: they do aerospace, automotive and defence supplies. They flex between one and the other. They locate themselves in the area, and can continue to manufacture there, because there is a skill base on which they can still draw. It is not as big as those of many of our competitors.

Hon. Members may want to compare the size of the German industrial base, not so far away. We need critical mass, and the aerospace industry plays an important part in our ability to maintain it. I come from what has been recognised as a car town, so hon. Members might ask what on earth I am doing talking about aerospace, but it plays a huge part in underpinning the skill base of the Coventry and Warwickshire area, never mind the celebrated car companies of the past, or Jaguar Land Rover, which continues to provide employment.

The manufacturing technology centre at Ansty, near my constituency, was established by two midlands regional development agencies—the old East Midlands Development Agency and Advantage West Midlands—which came together with several universities. The concept was to do something that we all recognise the country has been weak at in the past. We have had great pure science expertise in our universities and have repeatedly failed to turn it into product, market share, jobs and skills. The manufacturing technology centres were established to provide that through path, to pull those technological capabilities out of the universities and to encourage companies to share and explore the synergies they all need.

The centre in Ansty, led by Clive Hickman, is now fully operational with 125 people and 39 member companies, a third of which are aerospace companies, with Rolls-Royce playing a particular part. The centre currently has 29 projects with small and medium-sized enterprises. If we want to maintain what was sometimes glibly called high-tech manufacturing capability, we need facilities such as the manufacturing technology centre and we need those facilities to spill out and have a bigger impact on the local economy.

The Ansty development site is still underdeveloped and not fully exploited, despite a fantastically favourable geographical position, with direct access to the A46 trunk road, M69 and M6, easy access to the M40 and west coast main line and—if High Speed 2 is ever built and the Government do not back out—the first station out of London not that far away. The old Rolls-Royce Ansty site, now sadly under-utilised, is coterminous with the development site. The problem for Rolls-Royce is that, although valuable high-tech work is still done on the site, output has shrunk compared with overheads, as operations have shrunk over the years.

I want the expertise of the manufacturing technology centre to spread into the rest of the development site, and I encourage Rolls-Royce to exploit fully again the Ansty site next door, which could have a huge impact on the local economy. The Coventry and Warwickshire local enterprise partnership is doing its best to deliver that, but I wonder about its capacity. I know the Government are totally opposed to the old regional development agencies and think they were over-bureaucratic, but the LEP is private sector-led. The Government must ensure that the LEP has sufficient capability and support to provide the leadership necessary to secure such jobs in the Ansty development site off the back of the manufacturing technology centre.

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