Regional Focus – North West – Steeped in heritage

Posted on 7 Jan 2011 by The Manufacturer

The North West of England has a cherished industrial history. Bounded on the west by the Irish Sea, linked by a system of canals providing inland regions access to the sea and with a historically strong coal supply, the region was born of the Industrial Revolution.

In 1733, just north of Manchester, John Kay invented the flying shuttle weaving mechanism. It was perhaps one of the greatest facilitators of the industrial revolution and, beginning with the textile industry, instigated the concept of automation within industry and resulted in considerable wealth creation for the area.

During the roaring 1920s, Shaw and Crompton, a town in Greater Manchester with a strong textile industry, was reported to have more millionaires per capita than any other town in the world. On match day, Old Trafford and Eastlands may lay claim to that title these days.

The importation of foreign cotton goods signalled the decline of the areas textile industry but despite this, steeped in manufacturing history, the Manchester and Liverpool corridor remains one of the UK’s manufacturing engines. Of the £155bn that the 12 regions of the UK contribute through manufacturing to the UK economy, the North West provides the single largest portion with a 14.2% share totalling £21.1bn.

Business support
Today, as with much of the industry in the UK, the North West is more renowned for its high value technical expertise in industries such as aerospace, defence, automotive, technical textiles, biomedical and energy while also having a strong food and drink industry. Iconic brands in each of these sectors dot the region and are supported by a range of organisations and North West Development Agency (NWDA) sponsored regional cluster groups.

Manufacturers’ organisation EEF in the North West, based in Warrington, provides a unique combination of government representation, industry intelligence, networking programmes and business services designed to help the region’s manufacturers evolve, innovate and compete. As a membership organisation, its services are driven by the needs of its manufacturing member businesses in areas which include HR and legal advice, health, safety and environment, business improvement and training and development.

The UKTI works with the North West Development Agency (NWDA) and regional cluster organisations to identify and develop key industrial sectors to be internationally competitive. Key cluster organisations in the area include: Food Northwest; NWtexnet (Northwest Textile Network); Northwest Automotive Alliance; Northwest Aerospace Alliance; Chemicals Northwest; Envirolink Northwest; and Bionow (Biomedical cluster development). The NWDA and its affiliates in the area have proved to be very popular among manufacturers and, as a whole, business leader are cautiously optimistic about the Government’s plans to replace the agency with new Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). This sense of uncertainty was reiterated recently by the Government’s own business, innovation and skills committee which raised concerns about the LEPs in a report in December last year. The committee recommend that the RDAs should continue in some form in certain areas, claiming “the democratically expressed wishes of local businesses to retain regional coordination should be respected where they are clearly manifested.”

Key people

One to watch: Survitec Group

Aerospace and defence
The North West is the largest aerospace production region in the UK, accounting for a third of the UK’s turnover in this sector. Primarily based on airframe, aero engine system and component manufacture, the region also features the centre of excellence for military aircraft production (Typhoon, Join Strike Fighter, Nimrod, Hawk, UAVs). Comprising circa 1000 companies and employing more than 60,000 people, the sectors key players in the region include BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce with a strong supply chain of manufacturers such as Ferranti also based in the area.

Government ministers last month pledged support to the Rolls-Royce bid to secure US contracts which would pave the way for the creation of jobs its Barnoldswick, 40 miles north of Manchester. The firm, which is the area’s largest employer, has 24 lodged a bid to manufacture and supply engine fan blades for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. If the contract is secured it will open the door to a £30million expansion of its Bankfield site in Barnoldswick and create 100 extra jobs.

BAE Samlesbury, north of Manchester, has a strong tradition of design, engineering and manufacturing excellence in the aerospace industry. The site is home to some of the most advanced aerospace manufacturing and assembly technologies in the world. At Samlesbury, BAE Systems provides manufacturing and support capabilities to a number of internationally important aircraft programmes including Eurofighter Typhoon, the most advanced swing-role aircraft in the world and F35-Lightning II, the largest contract of its kind in the world.

With over 4,500 staff based at the 351 acre site, the company is a key employer in the North West.

Food and drink
The North West is England’s largest food and drink-producing region and home to the UK’s highest concentration of food and drink manufacturing businesses. As a result, the area features the significant presence of high-profile brands such as Kellogg’s, Nestle, HJ Heinz, Premier Foods, Princes Foods, Warburtons and Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls.

Premier Foods is the UK’s largest food producer. According to the company, 99% of all UK households bought a product from the company last year and 47.2 million people eat at least one Premier branded product such as Hovis, Hartleys or Branston every two weeks.

In 2009, Trafford-based food giant Kellogg’s was voted number 30 in the Sunday Times Top 100 Best Companies to Work for List. Kellogg’s, one of Manchester’s biggest employers, provides employees with perks such as flexible working, ‘summer hours’ and it’s Fit for Life programme which create a ‘great place to work’.

With headquarters in Bolton, Lancashire, Warburtons employs approximately 5,000 staff throughout the country and produces around two million bakery products each day. In late July last year, a major fire stopped production at the company’s Bolton site for a month when 15-20% of the snack plant was damaged. One hundred people had to be evacuated as 60 firefighters fought the blaze which was thought to have started in an industrial oven. Warburtons’ 13 other bakeries were tasked with ensuring that its bread deliveries remained uninterrupted. The fire failed to take the shine off the turnover for the year to September 26, 2009 which rose from £498m to £510m while profits increased from £32m to £34m.

One to watch: ENER-G Group

The North West is the UK’s second’s largest automotive manufacturing area and comprises around 500 businesses ranging from volume car manufacturing such as Jaguar Land Rover to specialist supply chain members such as Dawson Precision Components. The area consists of a number of lean, precision-automated assembly plants producing prestige vehicles (Bentley), performance rally cars (M-Sport), trucks (Leyland Trucks) and buses (Optare). The Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port is now Vauxhall’s only car factory in Britain since the closure of the Luton plant in 2004, and currently produces the Astra model for the British market.

From 1946 until 2002, Crewe in Cheshire was the home of Rolls-Royce motor car production and is the current home of Bentley motor cars. Bentley’s current model Continental Flying Spur and its sporting stablemate the 200mph Flying Spur Speed are the most successful four-door Grand Tourers in Bentley’s history. Since its launch in 2002, over 46,000 Continental model vehicles have been built.

M-Sport, based in Cockermouth, Cumbria has grown in size and stature since it was originally formed in 1979 and has operated Ford’s World Rally programme since 1997. Ford has finished runnerup in the Manufacturers’ series on seven occasions under M-Sport, but the highlight came in 2006 when the Blue Oval won the FIA World Rally Championship for the first time in 27 years. It was followed in 2007 by a second WRC title.

The Jaguar Land Rover site at Halewood, near Liverpool has experienced strong performance over the last 12 months. The site’s successful Freelander 2 model, achieved a 20% increase in vehicle sales to 17,336 in November last year. Halewood is currently preparing for the July launch of its latest model, the Range Rover Evoque, which has created 1,500 new jobs producing the company’s most eco-friendly model. During the recession, JLR was set to close one of its three UK manufacturing plants.

This plan has now been axed and if growth continues, the company is may offer a further 3,500 positions.

Other important sectors

The Chemicals industry is vital component of the North West economy and the NW’s largest exporter with almost 60% of its output sold overseas.

There are approximately 650 chemical businesses in the North West, covering a number of specialist manufacturing categories, including agrochemicals, detergents, petrochemicals, plastics, coatings and technical textiles.

Companies in the region include Unilever and PZ Cussons.

Technical textiles
The North-west is Europe’s largest cluster of technical textile companies with over 480 companies employing over 37,000 people. Turnover for the industry is over £3.97bn with more than 70% of the region’s output exported. As a hallmark of the areas textile origins, the technical textile sector is concentrated in central Lancashire and the northern part of Greater Manchester.

Companies include Techtex, Vita, John Holden.

Europe’s biggest biomanufacturing region is located in the North West and is one of a handful of globally recognised bioscience communities. Around 350 biomedical businesses employing 20,000 people are located in the region, covering a range of life science disciplines including drug development, research diagnosis and healthcare products. The region is also the largest exporter of pharmaceuticals with major players in the area including AstraZeneca, Oystar Manesty, Novartis and Eli Lilly.

Energy and Environmental Technologies
Of growing importance is the Energy and Environment sector which consists of around 5,000 companies and employs 87,000 people. Strengths include nuclear, energy efficiency, water and waste water, renewable energy, waste management and recycling and land remediation.

Companies include: Siemens, Ener-g, Enfinity, Eco Environments.

One to watch: James Cropper