As Made in Britain marks its ten year anniversary, the manufacturing association's CEO John Pearce considers what the next ten are likely to have in store.
Amid so much economic uncertainty, predicting the next few weeks in British manufacturing, let alone the next few years, seems hugely challenging or even foolhardy. With today’s geo-political crises, the cloud of de-globalisation and multiple inflationary pressures, there is an understandable lack of clarity over planning for the future and a barrier to upbeat forecasting. If you look carefully through the right lens, however, there are some emerging patterns that reveal a profound positivity in this ever-resilient sector.
The prosperous future of British manufacturing must matter to everyone – not just to those of us representing the industry, but to anyone who cares about the quality, locality and provenance of the goods that they buy. More crucially, we must never forget that there are products that are essential for all of us and the consistent supply of these goods is vital for society as well as the economy. Here is what I predict for the coming years of this vital and vibrant sector:
Circularity will enter the mainstream
More and more people are recognising the transformation within economics from the linear business models we have known for so long to increased focus on lower resource intensity, design-led thinking and upcycling of end-of-life products and materials. This trend will continue and intensify. Over the next decade, zero-waste targets will become normal business practice rather than exceptions to the rule. All businesses will become more accountable for their impact on the planet and their responsibility to protect it as time runs down on the climate change clock.
Product ‘needs’ will increasingly replace ‘wants’
For the economy to support the people it serves, it must provide certain essential product ‘needs’, such as food, shelter, energy and transport. Then there are the ‘wants’ or the desirables – not just a car to get you from A to B, but an aspirational one with extra features and benefits. Competitive manufacturing businesses will need to find ways to compete around fulfilling people’s needs better. Being a British manufacturer selling to a customer in the UK comes with the competitive advantage of a dramatically lower carbon footprint than products that are imported – bringing with them the environmental cost of international transport.
Greater transparency will become standard
The social media era has made protagonists of us all and the demand for visibility from the public is only set to increase. Many manufacturers that I have met over the years have always been keen to let the public in to see what they are up to and how they make their products. Some even go as far as organising days in for groups of school children to inspire and inform the next generation of makers. The companies already providing a window into what they do – and who they are – will have a more comfortable road ahead, as the demand for greater transparency is only going to increase.
Purpose will make way for impact
In business leadership, a clear, defined organisational purpose is important because bringing people together around a mission is hard. Manufacturing businesses do not need to create a purpose to justify their business because it is clear in the product they make. Impact, however, is different – and it is not always visible or positive. Manufacturers will have to acknowledge and evaluate their impact challenges. They will also need to shout loud about their positive social and environmental contributions – such as employing people doing meaningful work in a safe and ethical environment or using 100% up-cycled materials.
Manufacturers will achieve a special economic and social recognition
Using raw materials and energy, and employing people to design and test products, gives manufacturers a longer list of risks to manage than many other businesses – and, therefore, also greater responsibility towards the natural world. Recognition of this challenge will, in my view, get greater every year. We all need products and someone has to make them. Making them closer to where they are needed really is better for everyone. This is a personal hope as well as my expectation – and not just because I represent the sector.
I am absolutely sure that the next ten years will not be any easier than the last, but I am even more convinced that manufacturers will be able to cope, adapt and thrive. Resilience and innovation are embedded in the DNA of this remarkable sector. The next decade will see the most responsible manufacturing firms earn more recognition for their contribution – to society, to the economy and to the natural world.
There are close to 2,000 businesses now using the Made in Britain registered mark – a symbol of British provenance and commitment to the highest standards of business practice. We all agree that British manufacturers should be recognised and rewarded with a degree of prioritisation from public sector buyers, procurement professionals and consumers over the coming years – not just because they are manufacturing products in Britain, but because their products are of high quality and they are running their business responsibly.
Made in Britain’s role is to continue to make the case, every day, that these businesses deserve that priority.
John Pearce has led Made in Britain’s growth since 2015, transforming it into an influential trade body of close to 2,000 members today. Under his leadership, the Made in Britain mark has become a renowned symbol of British provenance and high standards, with member companies using it on their products to help them sell more at home and abroad.
He is committed to raising awareness of the strengths of British manufacturing both in the wider business community and with the public, and to ensuring that the sector’s challenges are addressed at government level. Prior to this role, John was one of the leads of the UK government’s GREAT Britain global marketing campaign.