There is a current resurgence of interest in manufacturing. Through the clearing fog of why the country almost went bankrupt – and might yet – people can see some factories still standing.
From an Industrial Policy in the 1980s that wrecked our heavy industry, through a naive expectation in the following years that inward investment would save the day, and onwards through another self-delusion that financial and other services were the way forward, we are back to the notion that manufacturing may be good for us.
Of course it is. At the heart of any healthy and major national economy is the central truth that it must make goods and sell them abroad.
Before the realisation that we ignore manufacturing at our peril dissolves into hand-wringing and indecision, here is a raft of core measures that need implementing:
1. Place manufacturing at the heart of economic growth plans, don’t just tag it on as a worthy addition to digital, services, renewable energies, or whatever else seems fashionable at any given moment.
2. Further place exporters at the heart of a growth economy. This means everything from turning over our embassy network to commercial support through to tackling the inefficient bloat and under-performance which characterises UKTI.
3. Provide significant tax relief to exporters – one suggestion is 10p per every £1 exported.
4. Simplify and expand R&D support, making it much more simple and accessible to early and mid-stage companies.
5. Stop wasting money on vacuous “soft supports” which soak up the State enterprise development budget (mentoring, coaching and other low quality advisory smokescreens etc.).
6. Develop clear and effective mechanisms which pump affordable investment much more directly into expanding businesses. This means an end to the slew of bureaucratic “investment initiatives” which continue to cascade out of central and regional government and the creation of German-style industrial investment institutions.
7. Reduce the level of red tape and facile regulatory measures placed on industry. This includes creating a level playing field for the UK around its interpretation relative to its main competitors of the Bribery and Corruption Laws. It also includes a re-appraisal of employment legislation and of environmental constraints. Within basic moral boundaries, set businesses free from the interventionist madness.
8. Reconfigure education so that STEM competency is a core output across all pupils. Develop a stronger focus on technical subjects and industrial production within universities. Extend and strengthen apprenticeship schemes directed towards manufacturing and industry.
9. Business organisations, including Chambers of Commerce and LEPs, across the country to be led by economically relevant memberships around the core agenda of Access to Investment, Export Support, Education to Employment Matching, Opposition to Local Authority Anti-Business Activity, and Reduction of Regulatory Barriers.
10. Challenge and reconfigure the university research funding ethos which is to suck in as much staff funding as possible whilst often only paying lip service to any real focus on IP commercialisation.
- all of the views above are my own but a couple of themes have been made more precise by the recent blogging of Michael Oliver, the Cheshire-based industrialist, who has long been campaigning for an enabling engineering and manufacturing environment.