Manufacturing is flying high in the Cotswolds
PUBLISHED: 13:46 30 October 2018
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“Britain doesn’t make anything any more....” Tell that to the exceptional companies in the Cotswolds, says Stephen Tulip of the EEF
A recent EEF survey revealed a worrying statistic, 65% of the British public think that the UK is not in the world’s top 20 manufacturing nations, with the public on average ranking the UK at 56th in the world. According to some commentators, the days of engineers creating awe-inspiring projects are lost to the UK, replaced by a service based economy and the idea that “we don’t make anything in Britain any more”.
The Cotswold Life EMI Awards highlighted the falsehood of that perception. In one night I met Oxford Space Systems who are helping clean up space, Versarian, whose Graphene composites helped propel team GB to a Skeleton bronze medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics, and Xylem Dewatering Solutions whose equipment and expertise was central to the recent flooded Thai caves rescue. Having all of these companies brought together in one room was incredible. If proof was needed that that we do still make things in the UK, the EMI awards finalists were it.
The truth is that the UK manufacturing sector is strong. 10% of UK output is from manufacturing, making us the 9th largest manufacturing nation in the world. Manufacturing accounts for 45% of UK exports totalling £275bn a year and employs some 2.7 million people. And it’s not just volume manufacturing, the UK is at the forefront of technology, with 69% of Business R&D being done by UK manufacturers.
4th Industrial Revolution
UK manufacturers are embracing the 4th industrial revolution. We are seeing companies adopt automation and co-botics to increase productivity and ensure that the UK remains competitive in a global market. Companies are embracing big data, AI, virtual reality and the Internet of Things to integrate their supply chains, reduce wastage and ensure that their products are right first time, every time. Technology is enabling companies to virtually model components, vastly reducing the time and cost of product development. Taking advantage of these technologies is key to the sector’s growth.
It’s not all positive news for UK manufacturing. The uncertainty around future trading relations created by the Brexit vote has severely impacted manufacturers and their ability to plan for growth. New EEF/ComRes research shows one in six manufacturers say business will become untenable with a no-deal Brexit and that a quarter have lost out or expect to lose out on investment and new contracts. The message is clear, business needs certainty in order to plan for life after Brexit. This is why EEF is supporting manufacturers through the Brexit process, providing guidance on how tariffs, rule changes and customs delays may impact their business. EEF is doing this to help manufacturers plan effectively, meaning that they can take measures to ensure that their businesses can continue to prosper and take advantage of new opportunities post-Brexit.
Access to skills is a huge issue for manufacturers, as is the need to ensure that when adopting new technologies they have the right skills in place to maximise their potential. Apprenticeships help meet this requirement, but what is needed is a fundamental shift in how UK manufacturing is perceived. Creativity, design, technology and innovation are fundamental to the sector and to attracting young people choosing their careers and the teachers and parents advising them.
Made in Britain
So, do we make anything in Britain? The numbers certainly suggest so, although the manufacturing sector has some way to go in increasing the public’s awareness of what we do. The UK is home to some of the world’s most innovative companies and there is innovation and excellence tucked away on industrial estates across the country. Companies of all sizes are working on the materials, technologies and systems that will be tomorrow’s ground breaking innovations. Businesses are facing uncertainty in Brexit, but British manufacturing will adapt, innovate and evolve. It always does.