The Manufacturing Assembly Network (MAN) launched its post Covid-19 MANifesto, earlier this year, detailing the support the sector needs if it is going to recover from the pandemic. Signed by MDs from the ten companies, the 10-point plan focuses on creating the business support and economic conditions required for UK manufacturing to become a global powerhouse once again. Tony Hague, CEO of PP Control & Automation, discusses three of the key requests and why it is finally time to sing from a collective hymn sheet.
If you asked manufacturing bosses across the country to sum up the one thing they’d want from the Government, I’m pretty convinced that the majority would ask for a coherent cross-party industrial strategy.
For too long, we have seen political parties spend too much time point scoring and bickering over different policies, with a change in Government quickly ushering in new directions, new approaches and new strategies.
This is creating a business support ecosystem that just doesn’t really get manufacturing. Yes, there’s the odd notable exception, but a lot of the assistance is knee-jerk, ill thought-out and doesn’t really deliver longer-term help that can address key issues around skills, exports, electrification and development of sustainable technologies.
Then you have the whole question of lagging UK productivity, which has never recovered from pre-2008 levels, due in part to poor investment in automation and robotics.
Rather than looking at a cross party industrial strategy that drives the next five, ten, twenty and even fifty years of industrial development, we have instead focused on a policy that is all about ticking boxes around creating jobs.
What’s wrong with that you might say? Well, for me, we focus on ‘employment’ when it comes to numbers, as opposed to looking at the quality of jobs.
There are growing concerns that automation and robotics will lead to low skilled job losses, however, it equally creates new opportunities in higher skilled, higher ‘value add’ areas, thus increasing productivity and output per capita.
Any long-term strategy should ensure that is caters for young people of all abilities and have investment and upskilling at its core – we also need all political parties to sign-up to it and ensure that it doesn’t get changed if there’s a cabinet reshuffle or a change in power.
If we can ever achieve this then we have a great opportunity post Brexit/Covid-19 to rebalance trade and significantly expand supply chains so we are less reliant on low cost countries for vital equipment and parts.
Government can support this investment by creating tax breaks, capital grants and by looking at export support that will encourage firms to trade overseas – whether that is direct or through subsidiary businesses offshore.
In the short-term and whilst we wait for consumer confidence to return, there should be a focus on industry stimulus packages for the commercial aerospace sector and automotive – two markets that we have significant expertise in, but both have been hit hard by the lockdowns.
In terms of cars, perhaps we could look at a scrappage scheme, but tie in the fact that new purchases must be hybrid or electric? SME manufacturers should also explore if HS2 offers new supply chain opportunities.
We also have to cherish the ‘Made in the UK’ badge, just like any German or French person would when it comes to talking about their own domestic manufacturing. It’s such an underused strength and we need to shout about it more. We’re bloody good at manufacturing and, with a long-term industrial strategy, we could be even better!