EDITOR’S LETTER: Another year over…

Editor’s note for the December/January issue of The Manufacturer magazine.

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Jane Gray, Editor, The Manufacturer magazine

First and foremost, congratulations to the victors of our Manufacturer of the Year Awards 2013, GE Aviation Wales.

The Nantgarw site was hailed by judges as “the unsung hero of British manufacturing” and is undoubtedly worthy of our award for the best all-round role model for competitive manufacturing in the UK.

Congratulations too to all our category winners and highly commended companies. The competition at our fifteenth annual awards was particularly strong and all finalists had strong claims to recognition.

The turning of a year always provides cause for reflection and anticipation. Looking back over 2013 there are plenty of highs for UK manufacturers to celebrate – some lows too, like big job losses at BAE Systems and Pilkington Glass, but on balance, it seems there’s a lot to be positive about.

We have seen billions of pounds awarded by government to support R&D programmes via the Technology Strategy Board,  supply chain competitiveness via AMSCI, skills via the Employee Ownership scheme and commercialisation of research via the Catapults.

When considering industrial strategy, the main impression is one of consolidation. Government, or at least BIS, has been staunchly consistent in pursuing the objectives it laid out in September 2012 and while a fiscal framework to accompany these aims leaves the strategy somewhat weak, the stability of messaging has run in parallel with mounting evidence of business confidence and growth.

From many perspectives, the attractiveness of the UK as a manufacturing location seems to be increasing. In 2013, big companies like Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan and JCB have committed to creating many thousands more jobs and there has been a swathe of factory openings by optimistic SME and medium sized firms including Adlens, the London Taxi Company and Unison. Meanwhile countless other manufacturers have announced intentions to expand and invest in the immediate future.

Reshoring has been a buzzword this year with more and more firms reporting that they are repatriating manufacturing from overseas to support total cost competitiveness, better service provision and flexibility. Skills gaps are still threatening, but investment in apprenticeships by government and the private sector has intensified and surveys, like the one published by BAE Systems at the Skills Show, indicate that the perception of apprenticeships with most parents is improving.

Before we get very un-Britishly carried away with enthusiasm however, it should be pointed out that movement on business investment has not come before time. Industry commentators have highlighted the UK’s laggardly approach in this quarter, even when compared to unstable European economies like Spain and Italy.

There has also been a notable failure to make significant progress on increasing exports – though some would say that an overt assault on sending goods out of Britain will never achieve a sustainable balance of trade, a measure which never seems to get much air time these days.

I won’t make predictions about what 2014 has in store for industry; crystal gazing has never been a hobby of mine. But with the general election approaching, a Scottish referendum on independence and continuing energy security concerns its unlikely to be a year for complacency.