From start to finish March 6 was a day that put UK manufacturing in the spotlight. Before manufacturing trade body EEF was even able to get the ball rolling at its first national conference event, headlines in the broadsheets and industry press alike were reporting Nissan’s announcement that a new plant in Sunderland is due to create 2,000 jobs in the UK manufacturing sector.
From there on contributions from political figures and high profile industry speakers – not to mention challenging questions from ‘on the ground’ manufacturers in EEF’s audience – made the UK’s forgotten industry a leading story for the day, a position in the public eye nicely rounded off by the leaking of a letter from Vince Cable toward its close. This missive lambasted the coalition’s approach to industrial policy.
But there was more to EEF’s National Manufacturing Conference than political soapboxing. Workshops focusing on three key themes of growth through exports, alternative finance options and innovation strategies ensured that the realities of business were not forgotten – nor the responsibilities of business leaders to pursue success of their own accord, rather than relying on government support.
Vocal throughout the day, Andrea Rodney, director of Midlands engineering company Hone-All Precision, advocated this ‘if you want something doing – do it yourself’ approach in the closing panel discussion session saying, “I don’t need subsidies. If I deserve to be in business I will look after my own business.” Panel speaker Jan Ward, CEO of specialist alloy supplier Corrotherm, also took a bracing stance on the responsibility of manufacturers to be more assertive in their approach to competition and coping with the business environment they have to hand. “It’s not a level playing field. Stop moaning about it,” she said.
This pragmatism was well supported in the sessions investigating finance options and those highlighting different approaches to innovation. Delegate feedback from the day indicated that 59% of delegates rated the innovation speakers as “very good” and 24% found the quality and relevance of the finance sessions to be “excellent”.
Those looking for growth through exports were, however, generally frustrated to find that the presentations and discussions on this subject reflected a day-to-day experience of poor information and practical guidance for companies looking to export. Several delegates told on the day that they felt many organisations which claim to offer support services for exports simply avoid facing up to the challenges of bureaucracy when scoping opportunities.
Overall though, feedback from the day must have elicited much contented back slapping for the event organisers. Eighty eight per cent of attendees found the day overall to be “relevant” or “highly relevant to the challenges faced by their businesses.
EEF’s National Manufacturing Conference made a hit in the twittersphere. Here are a few of our favourite #ukmfgconf tweets from the day
- @rach_e: He talks the talk. Says the right things. Uses the right hairgel. But a lack of tangible “how we would do it talk” #miliband
- @paulmyerski: Oh Ed Siliband! He says his party doesn’t believe that loss making companies should get Govt support. Forgot bank bailout Ed?
- @archiemohan: I’m no leftie but Ed Miliband’s speech in #ukmfgconf was one of the best and economic speeches this year. Well spoken, more policies now.
- @marnold56: Dr Vince Cable not freestyling like Ed but he’s got actual policy to refer to!
- @ScottBreese: Biz’s like FedEx, Intel, Nike, Apple, Ben & Jerry’s, Compaq and AOL, received money from US Federal Government. UK needs similar.
- @mymas_mfg: Cable insists that Government will be more confrontational when looking to keep intrusive EU regulation at bay
- @AndyrRumfitt: Despite Lombard lending 15% more in asset finance and £4 billion to UK firms much more potential to fund plant and technology
- @chriscoopey: Asked Mr Cable whether Mr Gove consulted before Engineering Dip was devalued in GCSE equivalency – ‘conversations are ongoing’
- @sianharrington: Skills agenda huge says Olver. All mfg co could reach out to local schools to help interest kids in maths & science
- @deekaypee999: Over 500,000 engineers needed in the next 5 years for industry just to stand still – Dick Olver
- @rach_e: Jonathan Watkins; Ceres Power says waive stamp duty & stop engineering grads paying back loans for 3yrs to arrest talent crisis
- @MyMaskcouk: My mask in favour of a Made in Britain mark. #ukmfgconf Proud to say all our celebrity masks are designed and made in Blackpool, not China
Read our Naked Engineer’s review of the day online at: www.themanufacturer.com