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Manufacturers call for more backing from govt

PLANT Equipment association says UK industry needs more subsidy to stay competitive

BRITAIN'S plant industry needs more Government backing if it is to remain competitive against nations with lower production costs, speakers at the Construction Equipment Association annual conference warned last week.

They said backing needs to include both more financial support in the form of grants and political support in the face of European legislation such as the proposed changes to the Working Time Directive.

The calls coincide with the entry of the first Chinese excavator firm, Hunan Sunward, into this country.The firm is looking for dealers.

Incoming association president Paul Ross called for plant manufacturing to be recognised for its contribution to the economy.He said: 'Construction equipment is often not high on the political agenda.

But it contributes £8.5 billion to the economy and employs 57,000 people.'

He added that plant often suffered in comparison with the car industry.'The subsidy the government gave just to pay a week's salaries at Rover is a third of what we got for the entire year.We recognise that competition is healthy but we just want a level playing field, ' he said.

Martin Temple, director-general of the Engineering Employers Federation, said British engineering in general was in danger of losing out to other countries.

He said: 'There are worrying differentials appearing against the rest of the world and many of them are self-inflicted.Energy particularly is set to become disproportionately more expensive, while pensions and insurance costs are rising fast.'

He added that the restoration of the opt-out to the Working Time Directive was crucial. he said: 'We have to keep the principle of the opt-out to maintain flexibility and competitiveness.'

The CEA is currently lobbying MPs to get the Department of Trade and Industry to restore its grants for manufacturers exhibiting abroad - the DTI has announced it will withdraw all such funding.

Mr Ross said: 'For exhibitions in places such as China it is often the only way small companies can afford to find new markets.

Meanwhile other European countries such as Germany have huge amounts of support.'