If you missed this first time round, its well worth catching on iPlayer this week. Evan Davis manages to sustain an upbeat, and I have to say convincing tone, on a subject many of us would assume best not thought about: British manufacturing.
He has some really encouraging things to say in a time when it is too easy to succumb to despondency about the UK.
There is also a worthwhile challenge to our thinking, but more of that later.
Evan helpfully identifies 3 principles that enabled British manufacturing to become a global force in the industrial revolution:
- Use the resources at hand
- Move your product to reach the highest value
- Adapt to change and innovate
It is an irrefutable fact that a massive amount of manufacturing effort has disappeared from our shores. But this is no bad thing. In fact it has actually made us richer.
Evan goes on to illustrate how these same principles are being applied by some significant UK success stories.
- Berwin & Berwin's was the last clothing manufacturer to close in Leeds, but is now making suits in China and is a big player in the fashion industry
- Maclaren manufacture high value racing and sports cars in an environment more to be expected of a microchip plant: long white corridors that purify both body and mind, giving access to a factory floor devoid of impurity. This is a business strategy opposite to that of China: low volume but incredibly high value
- Brompton, Britains biggest bike manufacturer makes 30,000 bikes p.a. two thirds of which are exported. Its' hardly mass production with the cheapest retailing at £700, but it sells a level of workmanship worthy of the crafsmans name that is engraved on the perfectly grazed joints
- BAE, the UK's biggest exporter with in excess of 100,000 UK employees, is now innovating further with the Mantis unmanned flight system
- The UK car industry which we allowed the Japanese to re-create accounts for 10% of our exports. From the Japanese we learnt order, efficiency, beauty, and change for the better, resources that were at hand albeit from overseas
- GKN make parts for half the cars in world. They struggled in the 20th century but have also learnt from the Japanese, becoming a 21st century success
The point is, we still make things. But as Evan points out, the better we get at manufacturing the less we see of it . The UK has design, skills, branding, and an openness to the world. We benefit from foreign skills as well as foreign investment. A bleak view would have it that too much of our industrial assets have fallen into foreign hands. It would be equally valid to say that foreign investment money has fallen into our hands! But what this means is that we have the resources and skills to manufacture increasingly high value products and a capability to compete globally.
However, we still have a £30bn trade deficit. There are not enough of the kind of companies cited by Davis to fill the gap. Not only that, but there is the constant need to keep on adapting and innovating. So, Davis asks: can manufacturing sustain our economy?
It really is down to us. How will we choose to live? Will we continue to buy more than we make? Our choices as individuals affect the whole economy. By spending and not saving we rob new businesses of the investment needed for innovation.
The good news is that post-crash we are spending less and saving more, If we can ally this with more self belief & less doubt, we might just do it.