Feeding the beast in the East

Posted on 4 Mar 2010 by The Manufacturer

EEF celebrated Manufacturing Week in the East of England yesterday by holding an official opening event of its new regional headquarters in Cambridge. Mark Young reports.

The trade organisation invited the soon-to-be chief of the East of England Development Agency Will Pope to perform ribbon duties and give a keynote talk. Pope takes up the role from April 1.

Three speakers from East of England manufacturing companies followed Pope in addressing the congregation of manufacturers and support organisations from the region. They were Mike Ottolangui, MD of Milltech Precision Engineering; Paul Veried, MD of Foster Refrigerator; and Phil Oldfield, section manager and apprenticeships director of Perkins Engines. All three companies won awards at EEF’s National Manufacturing Awards last month.

EEF’s new premises are a purpose built office in the village of Pampisford, around five miles from the growing advanced manufacturing centre that is Cambridge. The organisation will orchestrate the services it provides to its East Anglian members from the base. It will also use the base as headquarters for further operations it is developing in Hethel, Norfolk (home of Lotus) and East Malling in Kent.

Opening the event, EEF regional director David Seall said: “This new office will make it easier for our members to access the high quality support offered by EEF, while also demonstrating our confidence in the region’s vibrant manufacturing base.”

Seall told the audience that 18,000 manufacturing companies in the East employs 280,000 people and supports an estimated 250,000 jobs indirectly. Added together, this figure constitutes 10 per cent of the population in the area.

Pope took to the stand and told of the need for manufacturing organisations like EEF and EEDA to collaborate in order to help East of England manufacturers “recognise the upturn when we see it and be prepared to invest.”

He said that while it would be disingenuous to claim financial and other service based industries do not have a major part to play in a new-look UK economy on the other side of recession, manufacturing must be given more prominence in Whitehall’s list of priorities.

“It’s inevitable that the manufacturing industry will be a different shape [after recession],” he said. “Perhaps we need a society with a different shape. Financial services are still important but eventually someone has to make something.”

Pope called for everyone involved in manufacturing in the East to be more vocal about their successes and halt “self deprecating tendencies” which he says are rife in both the region and the industry. He pointed out that 25 per cent of the UK’s research and development capability is based in the East, as is the largest information and communications technology research centre in Europe – Astral Park in Ipswich. He also said East Anglia hosts the largest life sciences cluster outside of the US.

Ottolangui told the audience how his metal forming company Milltech has grown from a computer-less ‘Fred the Shed’ operation that transported its work-in-progress in shopping trolleys to a recession-defying high tech advanced engineering company working out of a brand new purpose built 15,000 square foot premises in the six years since he and two colleagues orchestrated a management buyout.

Veried discussed the green initiatives at his company and conveyed the value of the ISO14001 accreditation in separating Foster from competitors with ‘green wash’ tendencies. Oldfield spoke of the apprenticeships programme he oversees at Perkins – one that has seen all 20 starters from the 2008 programme still partaking in the course now.

One of Oldfield’s protégées, Anton Barrick, was awarded the Outstanding Contribution by a Final Year Apprentice at EEF’s awards.

EEF’s Manufacturing Week in partnership with accountancy firm BDO LLP is running until Friday when it culminates with the launch of the organisation’s Manufacturing Manifesto – a document which advises whichever political party to form the next government on the support manufacturing needs to lead Britain back to prosperity.

Click here for The Manufacturer’s coverage of the week and specially prepared articles in conjunction with BDO on topics including open markets, skills and energy.