The Coalition when it came to office had sensible aims to rebalance the UK economy. It wished to cut the state deficit, and create a better balance between the productive sectors paying the taxes, and the state sector spending them. It wished within the private sector to increase manufacturing as a percentage of the whole.
Almost five years on the government has made progress in cutting the share of GDP spent by the state, but has further to go to eliminate the deficit altogether. The private sector in the second half of the Parliament has grown much more quickly than public spending, adjusting the balance between the two in a welcome way. It has also seen a manufacturing revival with some notable success stories, but not sufficient to increase the proportion of manufacturing in the total.
Rebalancing the private sector is more difficult for a government to achieve than rebalancing the state sector versus the rest. The government has considerable control over the size of the state sector, so can vary that as it sees fit. It has little control over the sizes of the manufacturing and service sectors. When trying to shift the balance it should want to do it by helping grow the manufacturing sector more rapidly, rather than by cutting the size of the service sector through adverse taxes and regulations.
As someone who has led manufacturing businesses in the past, with more than a decade of experience in senior positions at industrial groups, and who believes in making things, I do not need convincing of the desirability of expanding industry here. Nor is it difficult to say what other measures would help. As I have often pointed out, the single biggest stimulus to more industry here would be more reliable cheap energy, as the USA is discovering. Better purchasing by government would also help, so that more state spending could be used to buy things we need that are made here, without infringing competition rules. France and Germany seem to find ways of buying more of their own goods.
The boundaries between service and industry are not well defined. If a large industrial business decides to contract out its cleaning, catering and other back office services, the national accounts are likely to report a decline in manufacturing activity and a rise in service activity, though nothing real has changed. If an engineering business decides to buy in engineering consultancy to design its next product or solve some of its technical problems, again the figures flatter services and reduce manufacturing.
Sometimes the UK discovers that some of its engineering talent is drawn to the city where they can command higher salaries. Some people think this wrong, but they are adding value and earning their living. If those same engineers are better paid by working for an engineering consultancy, which in its turn can be hired by UK manufacturers, that may be a sensible model for advancement.