David Turnbull might appear an unlikely champion of Britain's manufacturers - he is, after all, a former chartered accountant, a member of a profession not normally lionised by industrialists. Now, as director general of the UK Industrial Group, his aim is 'to build a sustainable balance of trade surplus for the UK economy through a revival in the fortunes of manufacturing, engineering and processing industries'.
He has the backing of 150 small and medium-sized manufacturers whose number he expects to reach 600 by the end of this year. Its plans, he admits, are ambitious, particularly in the wake of the recent Rover sale. 'We're nearly at the stage where we can't generate a balance of trade surplus from our existing industrial base,' he laments. Its strategy, too, is bold: to set up a national industrial bank, with adequate credit lines for small businesses; a national investment fund, to put money into successful small manufacturers; and a national buying group, to encourage businesses to buy from each other, as well as using their collective size to negotiate the purchase of anything from raw materials to energy.
Unsurprisingly, given its interventionist agenda, the group has had little response from the Government. 'They are intransigent,' claims Turnbull, 'even though public opinion is against them. The only way to persuade them is to embarrass them into doing something - though I'm beginning to wonder whether that's at all possible.' He reserves his greatest scorn, however, for the DTI, particularly for its remoteness from industry and its president's refusal to 'pick winners'. After all, he says, 'it gives £2 billion a year to the TECs (Training and Enterprise Councils). If that's not a subsidy, I don't know what is.'.