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Why Britain is a world centre of innovation

The UK should remain a strong and influential member of the EU

By Stephen Gomersall  

Left to right: Stephen Gomersall, Prospect's Editor Bronwen Maddox, and David Willetts MP

This article was produced in association with Hitachi

Stephen Gomersall is Deputy Chairman of Hitachi Europe. The above draws on comments made at a recent Prospect event at the Conservative Party conference

Hitachi invests in many markets around the world—in IT, Energy and Engineering—and Britain and Japan have a long industrial history together. Scots engineers and British shipbuilders helped create the modern nation of Japan. Now Japanese companies are major contributors to the UK manufacturing and export economy, and they are rooted here because Britain is open and a world centre of innovation.

Under this Government, Britain is embarking on an infrastructure programme to ensure a competitive economy in the 21st Century. That is where we are investing, and planning to make our contribution.

Firstly, we are investing in rail. In County Durham, a factory is under construction, which from next year will start building the next generation of high-speed intercity trains for the Great Western and East Coast main lines. The factory will initially employ 730 people, and we are using almost entirely local suppliers to build the factory. That is stage one. In Doncaster, Bristol and London, there will be large maintenance depots, again creating new jobs. We are bringing our best technology here, and planning in future to export from the UK to Europe.

Second, we are investing in new nuclear power. Following very close in the footsteps of Hinkley Point, we are planning to build two new state-of-the-art nuclear power plants in Wylfa, Anglesey to deliver new power to the grid from the mid-2020s. This is the beginning of a 100-year commitment we have made to the UK, which will deliver enough clean, secure and affordable electricity to power some 10m homes.

Each of our two sites will create around 20,000 roles during construction and up to 1,000 in permanent operation. Hitachi is already talking to many UK suppliers.

This is a huge agenda, nationally and for us as one private sector company. Three important factors which will bear on our investment are: consistency of policy; development of skills; and the UK’s position with regard to Europe.

On the policy framework, this government has built an all-party consensus around an Energy Market Reform, designed to create the conditions for privately financed nuclear and other low-carbon generation. This was a major reason for our decision to invest. It is encouraging to hear noises from Europe that the EU is about to approve the Hinkley Point application.  But while our project has to be entirely privately financed, it is also in effect a long-term partnership between us as the investor and government. Transparency and consistency is the key to delivering both investment and affordable long-term energy.

For both the rail and nuclear industries, we have to increase the supply of skilled employees—of both graduates and school leavers. When you consider the total construction demand alone from planned new transport and energy infrastructure programmes in the early 2020s, there could be severe bottlenecks if this issue is not addressed, and we know the government understands this. We are preparing to play our part: for example, Hitachi is sponsoring Sunderland University’s University Technical College in Newton Aycliffe to train high school students in the skills they will need to get the jobs in our manufacturing plant. We are supporting university and local nuclear engineering development projects, and we will supply our own trainers to work with the construction companies.

Hitachi, in common with many companies, has made Britain our centre of operations in order to access the entire European market. For the sake of our growth here and ability to increase jobs in the UK, we hope the UK will remain a strong and influential member of the EU, not only so that we maintain free access to the market, but so that the European market remains liberal and competitive.

 

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