On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, (8/9 February) the National Manufacturing Summit 2022 will be taking place at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry.
Attendees will hear from a variety of key influencers, discussing the progress on emerging technologies and how they will help grow the UK’s global manufacturing footprint. This will all be centred around the main theme of achieving a net zero future.
Among the list of stellar individuals speaking at this year’s event is Lord Karan Bilimoria, president of the CBI and founder of Cobra Beer. We spoke to him ahead of his keynote speech at this years event, to get his thoughts on the current pressures and opportunities that present themselves to UK manufacturers.
Lord Bilimoria started by discussing the importance of this kind of event. This is a chance for manufacturers to share their pain points, network, learn and collaborate. “These events are really important to me as a proud manufacturer,” he says.
“In the 1970s manufacturing made up 30% of the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP). Today it’s down to 10%, but even at that level, we are one of the largest manufacturers in the world – that 10% is high quality, high value-added, state of the art manufacturing. It’s a sector I’m incredibly proud of.
The biggest pressures affecting manufacturers
All businesses are under pressure now coming out of the pandemic. “I would go so far as to say this has been the biggest global challenge since the Second World War, where the whole world’s been affected by this pandemic,” says Lord Bilimoria. After 400 billion pounds was spent by government on saving businesses and jobs to help the economy, along with one of the world’s leading vaccination programmes progressing at speed, a strong and fast recovery was predicted.
But, as Lord Bilimoria points out, “Instead, what we’ve had is a very fragile recovery. We’ve all suffered, all businesses including manufacturers – with labour shortages, inflation, an energy crisis, at one stage queues at fuel pumps, with interest rates going up as well. And on top of that, tax is going up.” As a crossbench peer in The House of Lords, he says he’s been urging the government to think twice about this. He believes taxation will only hurt the economy more, and believes the UK should follow the approach being taken in India, the country where he was born and brought up.
“I recently spoke at an event for the Indian budget this year,” he states. “And much like the previous year, India hasn’t increased taxes again. And what has the result of this been? India is now predicted to have the fastest growth rate of any major economy in the world at 9%. That is what happens when you don’t put up taxes.”
He continues, “What is key at a time like this, is generating investment and growth. In manufacturing, for example, the Super Deduction is a great initiative to incentivise investment, but it’s coming to an end next year. This needs to be a long-term investment, in fact, we could go on further. The Director General of the CBI has suggested that to incentivise investment, you can have all investments fully written off against tax when you make them. That’s the sort of measure that we need to incentivise investment.”
Walking the talk in sustainability
The industry is undoubtedly at the centre of a vital sustainable shift. Businesses are setting stringent and ambitious carbon negative goals, some are achieving them in style and way ahead of schedule, “This is business walking the talk,” as Lord Bilimoria puts it. He is also heartened to see scepticism that used to exist very quickly subside, making way for real and positive commitments.
“At the CBI we have the Goal 13 Impact Platform. Along with Deloitte, we surveyed businesses before COP26 and here are two powerful statistics. 79% of businesses believe climate is a mega trend, so the belief is there. And on top of that, 89% of businesses have at least one climate related target. So, businesses are now setting themselves the target even without being asked to, and manufacturers are very much doing that. Many of them are shining examples of sustainable manufacturing”
In his own industry, Lord Bilimoria gave the example of the beer bottles the use at Cobra. The best quality glass bottle can be made out of crushed glass, it makes the bottle stronger. More crushed glass means more recycled glass, at Cobra the bottles are entirely recyclable, as well as the cans. Any waste yeast, which is used for brewing, is used to make marmite and the waste grain is used for cattle feed.
Significant future opportunities to innovate
“The beauty being more sustainable is there is a huge opportunity for innovation in manufacturing,” he continues. “If I give you a very quick example, I’m Chancellor of the University of Birmingham. A couple of years ago we won a queen’s award for our railway department which was one of the leading railway departments in the world.
“We were receiving the award at Buckingham Palace and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales came around to greet all the winners. I said told him our railway department was working on a model hydrogen train, and that one day we will power the royal train with hydrogen – and we all laughed!
“This hydrogen train project started as a research project from a PhD student in 2012, it led to a model hydrogen train being developed in the railway department of Birmingham University, and now, at COP 26 in Glasgow back in November, we had the world’s first retrofitted hydrogen powered train, HydroFLEX, up and running and carrying Prince Charles and Boris Johnson.”
Lord Bilimoria cites this as a true example of how world leading innovation can be achieved through sustainable means and collaboration. “A British university, with help from the government (Innovate UK helping out with the finance) and collaboration with industry, all contributed to this. Porterbrook, the rolling stock company 30 other companies including Siemens, all working together to make this happen. That’s the power of manufacturing.”
The digital skills gap
Utilising digital capabilities and programmes is seen as a possibly game-changing catalyst for sustainable growth. However, concerns around the UK’s lack of skilled and digitally abled workers continues to grow. Issues around digital affordability and digital literacy may continue to hamper businesses and could also impact the next generation of this industry’s workforce. There is still a lot that needs to be done on this, according to Lord Bilimoria.
He believes the Government’s Help to Grow Programme, launched last summer, could help – he says: “I would urge every SME manufacturer in this country to sign up to this. This is a mini MBA of 12 weeks where the government pays 90% of the cost – the SME pays just £750 pounds the government pays the rest.
“It’s at a business school at your doorstep, where you meet other companies, other businesses, other manufacturers, so you learn from each other. It helps you to be more productive and to achieve growth in the future. There is also another aspect of this scheme which includes help for digital. You get finance for digital products to enable your business to be right up there with the tech. I would urge manufacturers to sign up to this.”
What attendees can gain at the National Manufacturing Summit
MTC chief executive Dr Clive Hickman OBE said to us in a previous interview that this summit was the perfect opportunity for the manufacturing sector to reflect on past achievements, but more importantly to come together to create a vision for the challenges that lie ahead.
Lord Bilimoria echoes these sentiments, and speaks to us here with a mixture of pride and purpose – acknowledging and praising the amazing resilience and ingenuity of the sector, while also urging businesses, individuals and government to harness the opportunities of the future
“I think the National Manufacturing Summit is such a wonderful opportunity to be face to face, with the chance to meet and hear from such an array of people on electric vehicles, batteries, wind turbines, solar panels, food producers, academics, ministers – there’s going to be a huge turnout.
“I hate the term build back better. The Greek Mayor of Athens, where I was chairing a conference, said to me, ‘I don’t say build back better, we should say build forward better.’ I say that to every manufacturer. Let’s make the most of this summit.”
Here’s what you can expect to learn at this year’s National Manufacturing Summit.