A new report has found a lack of commonplace competitive business traits among UK manufacturers and called for user centred policy making to raise the bar of SME performance in the sector.
The report, Making Good: a study of culture and competitiveness in UK manufacturing, was compiled by the All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group (APMG) and is based on evidence gathered over the course of a six-month inquiry.
Evidence was given by around 100 manufacturers of varying sizes and working in a range of sectors.
Leading academics and international experts on technology and business trends also gave evidence to the APMG.
Cumulatively, the evidence made clear that while pools of excellence exist in the UK manufacturing, key competitive business practices are far from commonplace across the sector as a whole, with many businesses exhibiting a general unwillingness to invest in innovation and skills.
The report also found a low level of engagement with and awareness of industry support schemes as well as a general reluctance to collaborate or network within industry to uncover growth opportunities.
The report seeks to change this suboptimal industrial culture through creating a better enabling environment for competitiveness.
Leveraging its position as a hub for cross-party collaboration, the APMG suggests that a 10-year fiscal framework should be established to encourage manufacturing businesses to adopt more ambitious growth strategies based on longer-term investment.
Crucially, the report calls on all political parties to honour the framework regardless of the outcome of the next general election.
Thomas Kohut, formerly APMG group manager for manufacturing, design and innovations and now head of education and skills told TM: “The report makes clear that there needs to be a radical revision of the way in which government listens to SMEs and involves them in policy design if we are to create an environment in which competitive business practices can become commonplace.”
Explaining further, Mr Kohut, who authored the Making Good report, said that evidence sessions highlighted how policies are currently “thrown over the wall” by government and will only be caught by companies with the resources to manage, implement and respond to them.
A more user centred design approach, which the APMG inquiry found to exist to some extent in other European industrial systems, could create a better culture of interaction and whole system competitiveness he said.
The Making Good inquiry was chaired by the Conservative’s Chris White MP and Labour’s Jonathan Reynolds MP.
A steering group from industry, academia and government bodies helped to compile the evidence and guide the writing of the report.
Steering group members included:
• Mark Adams, Vitsoe
• Andrew Churchill, JJ Churchill
• Professor Colin Davis, WMG
• Professor Steve Evans, Institute for Manufacturing, Cambridge University
• Clive Hickman, Manufacturing Technology Centre (HVM Catapult)
• Paul O’Donnell, Manufacturing Technology Association
• Philippa Oldham, Institution of Mechanical Engineers
• Jane Gray and Will Stirling, The Manufacturer magazine
Additional specific recommendations made by the Making Good report include:
• All parties should commit to protect funding for the TSB, EPSRC and Catapult Centres to 2020.
• The Cabinet Office should coordinate, with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, pilot projects looking at take-up of business support policies, in advance of the full roll-out of the Business Bank.
• Government should work more closely with trade associations in the manufacturing sector, particularly those with a strong core of SME members, in the initial design of policy programmes, and subsequently in marketing programmes to their members.
• The Department for Business Innovation and Skills should collaborate with industry on a national campaign for automation, with a focus on myth-busting, making the case for automation and job creation.
• UKTI should be more targeted in its approach, and collaborate with existing bodies to promote export training where appropriate.
• The Manufacturing Advisory Service should undertake a review of its strategic management advice, and expand its remit in this area with more targeted support. It should work with organisations including business schools, trade associations and Chambers of Commerce, and partner with the Design Council and UKTI amongst others, to link strategic business advice to structural evolution of the business.
The full report can be downloaded here.