Policy point with Dr Tony Whitehead, IET

Dr Tony Whitehead, IET director of policy, on breeding the confidence needed to see UK manufacturing thrive.

Dr Tony Whitehead, IET director of policy
Dr Tony Whitehead, IET director of policy

There is a misconception that there is no manufacturing in the UK. But complaining that government and others are not doing enough to support the industry reinforces this false impression.

A more productive approach is to demonstrate – to the media, government, prospective apprentices, engineers and technicians – that there is a thriving manufacturing industry around us. We need to be ready to demonstrate not just the problems, but the will to put potential solutions into action. Confidence breeds confidence and a catalyst is needed to help UK manufacturing thrive.

The watchword is cooperation. What can we do as manufacturers? What can the government do to support?

Manufacturers have done some work to highlight the biggest challenges that government help diminish. But the industrial strategy announced by the Government last September still needs a greater focus on strategic direction. This would lead through to greater policy stability and encourage foreign owned manufacturers to invest more in their existing production in the UK.

“Complaining that government and others are not doing enough to support the industry reinforces a misconception that there is no manufacturing in the UK”

Key levers in this space include capital allowances and skills. Fundamentally, infrastructure investment to improve infrastructure quality and affordability is also needed – this is an area which is often overlooked and could be remedied with small-scale, targeted interventions in some areas of the road network.

But it is important that manufacturers also play their part. Do we simply sweat out assets rather than investing in better equipment? Are we too risk averse? Do we have the leadership skills within our industry? Should tier one companies engage more with their supply chain?

In our conversations with Government we need to remember there is no silver bullet, re-balancing the economy will take a long time. So let’s start to recognise some of the success along the way. This can help to boost business confidence, drive up business investment and lead to an even more successful manufacturing sector in the UK than we have at present.