James Ashton: A manifesto for boosting our manufacturing
'Made in Britain' has undergone a renaissance, at home and especially abroad
In an age when entrepreneurs can generate untold wealth simply by shepherding a good idea through cyberspace, it seems quaint that Britain, as one of the world's largest developed economies, attaches so much importance to making stuff.
Something as basic as the whirring of a production line shouldn't matter anymore. As long as we have the ideas first, it's better to just licence our genius abroad and pick up the royalty payments. That's what they mean when they talk about the knowledge economy, right?
Yet there is something very seductive about manufacturing, from its ability to bind together a community, to the honest, tangible product that pops out at the end. There is also evidence that we are better off linking making with thinking – the investment in research and development that powers innovation.
It came as no surprise that David Cameron posed in front of racks of Warburton loaves on the campaign trail in Bolton two years ago and dashed up the M1 to visit TV set-top box maker Pace near Bradford when the ink on the Coalition agreement was still wet.
The "march of the makers" has been championed by government as the route to rebalancing our anaemic economy away from the financial services industry. There was a time when consumers, intoxicated by cheap foreign goods, saw "made in Britain" as a perjorative term – something left behind amid the rubble of our great industrial heritage. It has undergone a renaissance at home, but especially abroad, where the British brand in sectors from luxury goods to engineering stands for quality and reliability. Such a cachet must be exploited to carve out new export markets.
That is why The Independent is running special reports this week under the "Made in Britain" banner. We have two simple aims: to highlight some of Britain's manufacturing success stories, as well as addressing how we maintain and build on our strengths.
Reports from factory floors all over Britain will remind readers what we are good at, and how a strong manufacturing base can nourish a community. We found companies, large and small, who are quietly confident with their place in the world. They employ highly-skilled people who, because of their brainpower or skill, are meeting or beating the challenge of cheaper, rival economies. There are huge challenges ahead and we'll address those, too. Our manufacturers are buffeted by global headwinds. A smaller industrial base has eroded the supply chain so firms have to scour the world for components. Then there is the skills base. There aren't enough students taking science subjects, or women in industry. Numeracy and literacy of school leavers are also key concerns.
We won't try to tackle all of these issues ourselves. Captains of industry and politicians will share with us their blueprint to ensure Britain is making things for generations to come. Let us know if you think they – and we – are on the right lines.
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