Policy point with Tony Whitehead

Posted on 4 Apr 2013 by The Manufacturer

Tony Whitehead, IET director of policy, on changing the narrative for UK manufacturing.

Already in 2013, the manufacturing community has run a gamut of industry conferences. The BIS Manufacturing Summit, the EEF National Manufacturing Conference, the UK Manufacturing Summit (hosted at the IET), to name just a few.

We all know which issues will come up at such events: skills, access to finance, investment, exports and energy. And we all know that more needs to be done to address these – but how much more?

The national media has become obsessed with reporting on monthly snapshots of manufacturing statistics. This is a mistake. Some months the statistics are up, some months they’re down. Either way, they tell us very little and, more worryingly, obsession with them reinforces lack of confidence, resulting in under-investment in manufacturing.

But in the absence of any change in the economic debate, the media have little else to fall back on.

Therefore, the IET (along with other professional bodies) is working to change the narrative for UK manufacturing – to improve understanding among politicians of what life is like for a UK-based manufacturer by talking to manufacturers at the sharp end.

The interviews so far have demonstrated clearly that where a long term strategy is in place, business prospers. This lesson applies to government and is behind the recommendations made in our report Engineering an industrial strategy. But it also applies to manufactures themselves.

Not every manufacturer has a long term strategy and, as a sector, we need to challenge ourselves to ensure that best practice is really spread through the supply chain to boost international competitiveness and alter the narrative of industry as perceived by outsiders.

Focusing on the food and drink sector, the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, the IET is working on a detailed study to uncover its opportunities to innovate business practices and processes. Furthermore, as part of the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group inquiry into British industrial culture (p6), the IET will investigate in detail why short term business cultures exist.

Armed with the findings from these investigations we hope the Spring conference season for 2014 will offer a clearer statement on where UK manufacturing is heading and provide meaningful evidence as to what is being done to move in that direction.