WORK and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith called for more school leavers to consider a career in manufacturing and engineering during a visit to Delphi Diesel Systems in Stonehouse on Friday (January 31).
Accompanied by Stroud MP Neil Carmichael, the former Conservative Party leader was given a tour of the site which acts as Delphi’s global headquarters for its heavy duty business.
The secretary of state met with apprentices and graduate engineers, and was also shown the production lines where Delphi assembles the world leading fuel injection systems which it supplies to the three biggest lorry companies in Europe.
Among those introduced to Mr Duncan Smith from Delphi’s 1,000 strong workforce were graduate engineers Peter Bonnington and James Lee, and the firm’s 2013 apprentice of the year Kenny Collins.
Mr Duncan Smith, who lead his party in opposition for two years between 2001 and 2003 and came to be known as ‘the quiet man’, said it had been ‘excellent’ to meet Delphi’s young employees and learn all about their ‘really positive experiences’ of working in the high-tech industry.
The senior Tory politician and architect of the Government’s controversial welfare reforms, said the Coalition was focused on trying to create more apprenticeship opportunities for young people and was working hard to reform schools to ensure that pupils had the skills businesses required.
Speaking exclusively to the SNJ, he said: “One of the big things that the Government has been emphasising in the last three and a half years is the need to increase manufacturing and the number of engineers to help rebalance the economy. We want to manufacture more and export more.
“I have come here today to visit a company based in Stroud which is doing exactly that. It is a big success story for the area and support for companies like this one is an essential part of our growth strategy.”
Mr Duncan Smith said the Government was helping companies like Delphi by cutting corporation tax, removing unnecessary regulations and reducing the burden of taxation on smaller businesses which form part of its supply chain.
But he also urged businesses ‘sitting on large cash piles’ to do more themselves by investing to create jobs and boost economic growth.
“As businesses start to feel more certain about the future they need to begin to invest and the banks also now need to be stepping up to the mark and supplying them with credit,” he said.
The work and pensions secretary also praised Stroud’s MP for doing his bit to promote British industry by hosting the annual Festival of Manufacturing and Engineering.
Returning the compliment from his Conservative colleague, Mr Carmichael said it was ‘great’ that Mr Duncan Smith had been able to spare time to visit and added: “It is really important that we get young people starting to think about engineering as a career and we also need a culture change in our schools to ensure that happens.
“We need to make sure schools understand what businesses need and want. There needs to be a much clearer interface between schools and businesses because in the past there has been a disconnect between what schools teach and what businesses need.”
Steve Gregory, Delphi’s heavy duty product line executive, who showed Mr Duncan Smith around the company’s manufacturing facilities, said his visit was ‘vitally important’.
“It sends a very positive message out to the workforce but also he’s someone who’s going to influence industrial policy,” he said.
“Thankfully all the political parties now recognise that we need a more balanced economy. If we are going to create jobs and growth and value we need high-tech investments.
“It is no longer an unskilled environment and if we as a country are going to compete, high-value, high-tech products have to be the name of the game.
“High-precision technology and engineering is where we are taking our business and we need the environmental support from the Government to help do that.”
Mr Duncan Smith’s high-profile visit was kept under wraps until the very last minute as local Conservative Party members hoped to avoid a repeat of the protests which marred the education secretary Michael Gove’s visit to Marling School last month.
Hundreds of protesters turned out on that occasion and judging by the reaction on Twitter, Mr Duncan Smith could have expected a similarly hostile reception had details of his visit leaked out.
Former MP and Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate David Drew tweeted: “After debacle of Gove, Stroud MP now hiding ministers visiting Stroud. If he thought Gove was unpopular imagine what would happen to IDS.”