'SUPPORT manufacturing and we will drive your economic recovery.'

At the end of another strong year for Teesside-based Nifco UK, boss Mike Mathews tells David Cameron that Britain needs a clear economic strategy.

"WE have some very fragile industries at the moment and for me we don’t have a very clear view of how we should be supporting them," says Mike Matthews, a former apprentice, who was brought up on a council estate in Darlington, and made his way from the shopfloor to the top job at Eaglescliffe-based Nifco UK, one of the region’s most successful manufacturers.

A toolmaker by trade, he became managing director of the car parts manufacturer, which employs 560 people and this year secured a landmark deal to supply Ford Motors.

His passion for manufacturing sees him travel all over Europe to talk about the turnaround he has overseen at Nifco, which a decade ago was about to go out of business.

The firm is now used by the Government to showcase British industrial success. Mr Mathews fears, however, that a lack of joined-up thinking will prevent the country from realising its potential.

He adds: "We need an industrial strategy. What that means to me as a manufacturer is that you support some of the core supply chain - chemicals, glass, and steel. If you don’t have these firmly embedded into a UK industrial strategy then you are making a big mistake in my opinion.

"Someone needs to decide that the UK is going to be a manufacturer for the next 20 to 30 years and make a serious commitment to ensure that we have everything in place to make that happen.

"Steel to me is one of the fundamentals of that process. Common sense tells you if you are shipping-in steel from Germany, Spain, China, in the long term it is going to be more expensive to your economy than if it is made here.

"When I want an answer I look at what successful economies do. If you look at the US, Germany, Japan - manufacturing still plays a major part in the GDP. And all of them still make their own steel and keep their foundation industries going.

"In the short term you may be able to source cheaper product from China, but it won't be too long before they catch up price-wise with the West and we will be stuck buying their raw materials as they dictate how much we pay for it. It is a massive risk to put something so important in the hands of another country.

"People talk about the Northern Powerhouse – for me it should be about manufacturing and industry and the things that support that, like connectivity and the biggest one of all - skills. We hear people banging on about skills, better transport connections, but what is the UK's destination in terms of business and industry? Are we just going to hope it happens or is it something we are going to plan for?

"At the moment we don't have a cohesive strategy that we all know, understand and have bought in to. If the Government has one it is time they shared it with us so we know where the future lies."