Jane Gray talks to leaders from the Manufacturing Advisory Consortium about the new structure behind a respected SME support service and learns that despite new administration and focus, continuity of provision has been unshaken.
Nuts & Bolts
- Hear from the new administrators of the national Manufacturing Advisory Service on their plans to help UK SMEs in the sector
- Understand what elements of MAS have changed and what will stay the same
- Get new contact details and website information for MAS services
In October last year the association of businesses known as the Manufacturing Advisory Consortium, or MAC, won the contract from government to take over the management of the Manufacturing Advisory Service – MAS.
MAC, comprising a partnership between financial services organisation, Grant Thornton, the consultancy Peera, the West Midlands Manufacturing Consortium and MAS South West, bid for control of MAS at a national level following the demise of the Regional Development Agencies and has taken on responsibility for a £57m fund from government.
This public money was pledged to MAS early in 2011 to support its work with SME manufacturers across the UK over three years. But there was some concern from the manufacturing community that the closure of the RDAs, through which MAS was formerly managed, would leave SMEs bereft of a support service which had become widely respected for the improvements it helped to bring about in thousands of companies.
“We know that not all of the things we want to deliver and have delivered in the past were available universally or to the same level of intensity” – Simon Howes, Area Director, MAS South West
Government recognition of the value added by MAS to the UK manufacturing sector came in its decision to centralise control of MAS, and MAC now faces the challenge of meeting government expectations for a return on the money poured in, and the expectations of a manufacturing community exhausted by vacillating government industrial policy and insecurity in the national structures which purport to support and represent them.
Addressing this challenge head on Simon Howes, now area director for MAS in the South West, says: “Hopefully the transition to new management will appear seamless to manufacturers. While some contracts and programmes in place under the old structure technically had to be terminated mid way, continuity in the people on the ground across UK regions means that work has been immediately resumed and no understanding of the challenges involved has been lost.”
Furthermore, Howes assures that “the basic services anyone would recognise from the old MAS will still be available.” The only changes to what is being delivered it seems, come from a new focus on growth as the motivating factor behind every project, and a leveling of the quality of service available nationally.
“We know that not all of the things we wanted delivered, and have delivered in the past, were available universally or to the same level of intensity,” comments Howes. Simon Griffiths, area director for MAS in the North and West England explains further. “When MAS was originally established the remit was to help improve productivity. We have now been tasked with encouraging a focus on growth which brings a slightly different nuance to the way in which programmes are approached. Productivity is still important but we are all about generating more GVA and jobs.”
In practice this has meant MAS acknowledging a criticism leveled at it in the past, that it promoted lean manufacturing too single mindedly. “People have said that with MAS you get lean whether you want it or not,” allows Griffiths. But now this has been addressed and companies can carefully assess with MAS advisors whether they want to carry out lean focused efficiency and productivity work or whether other approaches centering on strategic business plans, supply chain relationships and new product development are more appropriate.
And the success of these initiatives is not to be a matter for idle speculation. Leaders from MAC will meet monthly with representatives from the Department of Business Innovation and Skills to report on growth metrics.
When it won the MAS contract expectations were announced that MAC would deliver £1.5bn in additional GDP over three years through MAS, as well as safeguarding 50,000 jobs and creating 23,000 more. Progress on living up to these targets will be tracked through project reviews. Senior management in the companies MAS works with are required to approve assessments of the benefits they have gained and sign them off before MAC can report them to BIS.
The MAC members are keen for government to communicate these achievements annually to the public. David Caddle, area director for MAS in London and the South East, confirms. “We will actively encourage BIS to produce an annual report on MAS progress in job creation and GVA generation. It is in our interests to do so.”
“We will actively encourage BIS to produce an annual report on MAS progress in job creation and GVA generation. It is in our interests to do so” – David Caddle, Area Director, MAS London
Carving the pudding
The division of responsibility for hitting MAS targets and delivering value has been allocated between the MAC partners on a regional basis and some administrative elements have been allotted to particular partners considered to have the strongest specialist knowledge in those areas.
West Midlands Manufacturing Consortium, for example, has been given national responsibility for MAS marketing while Peera is responsible for developing the national framework of events. “It is important to have a lead that creates consistency across core events like our introductions to kaizen and 5S,” says Griffiths. “Having a lead also means we can avoid duplicating events across regions but use local and regional information to make sure we place sector focused events in the best places.”
This concept of an optimised national back office but a local face for deployment is at the heart of MAS strategy. As such, the new Local Enterprise Partnerships, which are now replacing RDAs across the country, present an interesting challenge and opportunity for MAS.
While there is a great deal of skepticism as to the overall effectiveness of the new LEPs, in some instances they are maturing quickly and proving themselves valuable partners to MAS. In those areas where LEPs are less mature or less aware of the manufacturing activity taking place within their boundaries, Howes says there is an obviously there is a responsibility and opportunity for MAS to highlight the dynamism of the sector – particularly at SME level.
Small but perfectly formed
MAS has always been known for its focus on SMEs and this will continue under MAC management. “We don’t exclude large companies from our services,” explains Griffiths. “But we cannot offer them subsidised consultancy as we do with SMEs.” Furthermore, while MAS has examples of successful work with large companies on local projects, the tools it employs are very much tailored to SME needs, and might not suit a larger organisation.
“The techniques we employ have developed with SME’s in mind and in understanding what that means you have to understand that an SME is not just a scaled down replica of a large company” says Griffiths. They function very differently – one person might hold a number of different management positions, business strategy is rarely formalised and there are no big ERP systems or any significant infrastructure.”
“When MAS was originally established the remit was to help improve productivity. We have now been tasked with encouraging a focus on growth which brings a slightly different nuance to the way in which programmes are approached” – Simon Griffiths, Area Director, MAS North and West England
What this implies is that MAS have developed a range of tools and techniques which constructively challenge SME leaders to adopt best practice approaches to business modelling, planning and production efficiency, but in a way that is sensitive to a low level of resource. “We give people process, not solutions,” comments Howes. “Process is far more scalable and when a company has finished working with us, they can apply process again and again to generate continuous benefits.”
To find out more about how MAS might be able to help your business visit www.mymas.org or call the new national helpline on 0845 658 9600.