David Prosser: Manufacturers recover but they desperately need more help


Outlook An apology. In common with all other media,
The Independent may previously have inadvertently given the impression that Britain's manufacturing sector had all but disappeared, with the odd success story hidden amongst the weeds of an industrial wasteland. We now realise manufacturing is a thriving source of export growth that represents the country's best hope for a sustainable economic recovery.

Actually, to dispense with the sarcasm, the point about the return to form of manufacturers – underlined again yesterday by another robust industrial trends survey from the CBI – is that we should not get too carried away. It's good news that industry is growing once more, but let's not forget the low base from which it is building.

Run your finger down a list of FTSE 100 companies – which account for around 80 per cent of the entire stock market by value – and you will find only a tiny handful of manufacturers, mostly focused on defence. Just one – Rolls-Royce – stands out as an undisputed world leader.

In addition, of course, Britain boasts some large privately-owned manufacturers, as well as many small and medium-sized firms. We should also be careful about defining manufacturing too narrowly. Stereotypes are misleading: companies ranging from Arm Holdings to GlaxoSmithKline would nottraditionally be thought of as manufacturers, but do tremendously well from making things that are sold all over the world.

Even so, manufacturing now accounts for just 13 per cent of the UK's total gross domestic product. That's down from 20 per cent as recently as 2002 – the demise of industry is not only a story of the Thatcher years – and 30 per cent in 1979. A decline of that speed is going to be tough to arrest.

The good news is that government appears, finally, to be alive to the issue. The last government's decision to protect the motor industry, for example, through the scrappage scheme represented a determination not to let another branch of industry just wither and die without a fight. The current administration has continued that approach, offering some manufacturers greater support, sometimes even with financial help.

What we still lack, however, is the initiative that the CBI called for earlier this week: a comprehensive vision of how we might reverse the decline of manufacturing rather than simply arresting it. With a Government strategy paper due any day now, it is crucial that the good form of manufacturers of late does not make for complacency. Returning their share of the economy to, say, the level of 1979 will be a Herculean task.



WikiLeaks supporters versus big business?

This is not the place to debate the rights and wrongs of the WikiLeaks affair, but the decisions taken by Visa, Mastercard, Amazon and Paypal make for a fascinating debate about business ethics.

The easy option is to accuse these businesses of a cravendisregard for freedom of speech – of giving into political pressure for the basest of motives: profit. The reality is a little more nuanced.

For one thing, no business can simply disregard the views of the government of the biggest economy in the world. For another, while these companies' decisions to sever links with WikiLeaks has caused outrage amongst supporters of the right to free speech and an open internet, there is another large constituency that is furious about what WikiLeaks has done.

In the end, all businesses are judged by their customers. A very sizeable number of those customers will take the view that these companies have crossed the line. If so, they should stop dealing with them – and if enough people do that, they'll get the message.

For now, Visa, Mastercard, Amazon and Paypal appear to take the view that the risk of such a boycott – and of the cyber-attacks they have faced – is outweighed by the potential damage of not taking action, both from the American government and from customers who want WikiLeaks silenced.

Time will tell whether that judgement is correct. But the power to punish those companies that have turned their backs on WikiLeaks still lies with their customers.



A fudge on pensions that serves no one

It must have seemed a delightfully simple idea back in the summer. Shortly after the Government downgraded the increases made each year to public sector pensions – via a switch from the RPI to the CPI measure of inflation – it announced plans for a similar reform in the private sector, saving employers £75bn at a stroke.

The reform has since proved anything but simple. The pension industry expected the switch to be compulsory, even for those schemes that have RPI-linked increases written into their rules, which would have caused all sorts of problems. Yesterday, much to people's surprise, Steve Webb, the pensions minister, announced a more measured reform, with such schemes protected.

One might expect employers to be heartened by this change of direction, which will at least protect them from the difficulties associated with compulsion. Far from it. Not only will they now miss out on a chunk of the savings promised, putting them at a disadvantage to the public sector, but there will be different sets of rules for different employers, and even for different groups of workers at the same employer, depending on when they joined the pension plan.

This is public policy at its worst. The Government made an eye-catching promise, only to discover that keeping it would be much harder than anticipated. But rather than braving those difficulties, it has chosen to hand them back to the private sector, which will now have to find a way through the thicket with little in the way of statutory backing.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Reach Volunteering: Trustee – PR& Marketing, Social Care, Commercial skills

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Age Concern Slough a...

Reach Volunteering: Charity Treasurer

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Crossroads Care is s...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000: SThree: We consistently strive to be ...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

£50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin