WEC hosts fact-finding trip for shadow business secretary

Labour’s shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna was shown the importance of engineering to Britain’s economic future as he hit the election campaign trail in Lancashire.

Chuka UmunnaHe said having a “proper industrial strategy” was vital for economic growth and added Labour was not afraid to get its “hands dirty” to help business.

Mr Umunna paid a fact-finding visit to The WEC Group in Darwen as part of his work to launch his party’s general election campaign in the North West.

The privately-owned WEC Group is one of the largest engineering and fabrication companies in the UK with a turnover of more than £35m and a 425-strong workforce.

During his tour he heard how the company had just invested £500,000 in the latest technology to set up a new job-creating powder coating operation in its home town.

He was also told the company, which has an extensive customer list across a wide range of industries including rail, automotive, nuclear and aerospace, had purchased a six acre site at the Walker Business Park in Blackburn for future expansion.

WEC Group commercial director Wayne Wild explained the group’s growth was based on continual investment in cutting edge machinery and in diversification.

He also urged more government support for businesses the size of WEC Group, which aren’t SMEs but are not operating on the scale of industrial giants such as Rolls-Royce.

He said: “We are caught in the middle, between SMEs and the bigger powerhouse groups, and as a result I feel we are being largely ignored.

“The support network exists for SMEs, but if we want to look at European funding, for instance, then we have to do it ourselves, with no support at all. And we have to finance the bid ourselves.”

The shadow cabinet member, who was accompanied by local Labour parliamentary candidate Will Straw on his visit, said Britain needed more companies like WEC. And he said laying out policies to support job-creating businesses would play an important part in the unfolding election campaign.

He said: “For me it is incredibly important. The point of our policies is to grow those sectors of the economy that produce decent, fulfilling, well-paid jobs and help us pay our way in the world and compete.

“A business like WEC Group illustrates what we are trying to achieve more of. It has grown through sustainable long-term investment, has a good business model, treats its workers well and therefore has good levels of productivity.

“The problem is, we as a country don’t have enough companies like the WEC Group.”

He said the government needed to back sectors like engineering and added it was important to provide access to sources of capital so businesses could invest in the long term.

And he also praised WEC Group’s award-winning training academy – the only one of its kind in the country, saying: “We have a chronic skill shortage.” Ten per cent of the WEC workforce is now made up of apprentices. It has invested £1m in the programme since its launch.