Report: Government complacent on motorsport and aerospace

22 March 2010

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee today publishes its report on the future of what it calls the two crown jewels of UK manufacturing - motorsport and aerospace.

The Committee says the two industries have much in common; both employ a highly skilled workforce, utilise cutting edge technology and their futures are becoming increasingly intertwined.

The UK has one of the most successful motorsport sectors in the world, which employs 38,500 people and produces £6 billion worth of goods a year, the majority of which are exported, the report says.

However the message the Committee heard from industry was that the Government was "complacent" about UK leadership in the sector. In the Committee’s opinion, the Government has not taken these concerns seriously enough.

Today’s report recommends the Government establish a dedicated motorsport policy team to address this problem and support the industry as it continues to grow and build on its international success.

Committee Chairman Peter Luff commented:

"Motorsport is an industry of national importance, and the Government needs to recognise this. We find it difficult to imagine any other country sidelining such an important industry. The Government needs to address this problem if the UK is to maintain this pre-eminent international industry and help it flourish."

The Committee also found that the industry was not being well served by universities. While many universities offer motorsport engineering courses, which are popular with students, they are not equipping graduates the skills that are needed by industry.

Peter Luff said:

"Universities are using the motorsport brand to promote their courses, but are not delivering the skills which industry required. While good courses do exist, many motorsport specific courses drop the more technical engineering material in favour of more generic modules, such as motorsport management. As one witness described it, when you ask one of these graduates 'Can you calculate how thick that piece needs to be?’ they say, ‘Oh, I didn’t do that module'."

The aerospace industry makes a substantial contribution to the UK economy, with an annual turnover of around £20.5 billion and directly employing 160,000 people.

The Committee found that the aerospace industry was much more robustly supported by the Government than motorsport, with direct support being offered through investment in product development, provision of research funding and availability of trade credit for its customers.

Nevertheless, the report points out that this support is less generous than that offered by the majority of the UK’s competitors.

Peter Luff said:

The aerospace industry is extremely competitive and other Governments are not afraid to spend significant sums of money supporting their home grown industry. The UK Government needs to ensure that our aerospace companies are able to compete on an equal footing with foreign companies."

One project the Government has embarked upon to support both sectors is the creation of a network of research facilities and "centres of excellence" to develop new technologies. While the Committee welcomed this new initiative, its Report highlighted the Government’s poor management of the procurement process for one of these centres, the National Composite Centre of Excellence.

Peter Luff said:

"While the right decision was made in end, the process leading to the establishment of the National Composition Centre of Excellence was an episode of worrying mismanagement by Government.

"The competitive bidding process was shrouded in mystery and large parts of the potential stakeholder group were not consulted. Those organisations that did bid were unclear about the exact specification and were asked to provide additional information at extremely short notice.

"The Government needs to learn lessons from this failure to ensure that any future projects, including the Aerospace Research Institute which we believe should be established, are competently and professionally managed."

During the course of its inquiry the Committee also examined the contribution that both industries are making to the green agenda, and found that much good work was being done. The report highlights however, that this is not always as widely understood and it could be.

Peter Luff said:

"We were left puzzled as to why the motorsport and aerospace industries have retained their environmentally unfriendly image when both sectors have done much work to minimise their emissions. As we say in our Report, we can only assume this is due to the "Top Gear effect", with people associating cars and planes with "reckless petrol-heads", as personified by Jeremy Clarkson, wasting gallons of fuel with no thought or concern about the impact it has on the planet.

"However, this is unfair. Both industries have much to contribute to efforts to reduce carbon emission and move the debate beyond a dry discussion of carbon budgets to a more valuable conversation about the role that technology and innovation can play in addressing climate change. We want to hear this emphasised more, both by the sectors themselves and the media."

Image: PA/Etienne De Malglaive/ABACAPRESS

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