It’s not you, it’s me

Jane Gray's goodbye editor's letter for The Manufacturer looks back over five years of development for the UK's industrial landscape.

Jane Gray, Editor, The Manufacturer magazine
Jane Gray, Editor, The Manufacturer magazine

After five fantastic years tracking the highs and lows of British manufacturing, the time has come for me to sign off my last issue and move on.

During my time with the magazine, a lot has happened to UK manufacturing.

From down beat doldrums to carnival-like celebrations of industrial revival, the journey has made fascinating subject matter from every perspective this magazine aims to expose.

Overall, the sector is undoubtedly in a manifestly more positive position than it was five years ago.

We’ve moved from a situation in which industry conferences and meetings with government were dominated by lengthy discussions about whether we really needed a long term industrial strategy, to a point where we are soon to celebrate the second anniversary of said policy and can point to a body of evidence of its effects on the national industrial landscape.

The Catapult Centres, the spread of University Technical Colleges, enhanced

Annual Investment Allowances, funding for aerospace engineering masters courses, Employer Ownership of Skills, increasing apprenticeships, plummeting corporation tax, the patent box, improved R&D tax credits, four rounds of the Regional Growth Fund, AMSCI and more.

While your experience of the relevance or effectiveness of some of these initiatives may be patchy, it would be churlish to say they are not a clear sign of care and attention to better partnership between industry and government.

And in a concatenation of improving circumstances, we have also seen radically improved confidence reported in a range of industry surveys, including those from the SME focussed Manufacturing Advisory Service, EEF and the CBI.

In May 2009, when I joined TM, the PMI for manufacturing recorded a paltry score of 45 – which was actually reported as a sign of improvement. (You’ll probably know by now that a score of above 50 signifies growth while a sub-50 score signifies sector contraction.)

In May this year, the PMI for UK manufacturing sat at 57. In June it rose to 57.5.

Of course the journey to this positive place has not been a continuous upward trajectory. There have been numerous blips, certain sectors have fared significantly better than others, and it is certainly not the time to be complacent.

As EEF’s Terry Scuoler pointed out at the Make it Britain Conference during the International Festival of Business, growth forecasts for 2015 and 2016 are not as strong as 2014. Furthermore, while the previously mentioned surveys all spout statistics on improving investment intention, there is still a significant lag in investment reality and the UK’s balance of trade remains parlous.

But there is a feeling in the air that big things are about to happen. At Make it Britain, 60% of the 350-strong audience voted to say they were confident the UK could lead a new industrial revolution which would see it master the age of mass-customisation.

So I leave on a cliff-hanger. Will manufacturers grasp the opportunities before them? Or will inertia among lifestyle leaders and the risk averse allow others to steal the march?

The next instalment will come under the aegis of the articulate antipodean Callum Bentley, TM’s new editor.

I will read with interest.