Why we need a Minister for Manufacturing

Posted on 25 May 2022 by The Manufacturer

The Queen’s Speech earlier this month was pretty high on political rhetoric, arguably ticking many boxes, with the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill taking top billing. The government is looking to use this legislation and others to drive economic growth and improve living standards. There is also a lot of talk about energy efficiency and international trade, as well as transport systems.

Back in the day, the local growth that is being promoted by the levelling-up and regeneration bill was not necessary, as the engine room of the UK economy was centred on those very communities that levelling up is targeted to support.

The needs of the UK and international markets in terms of energy efficiency, transport, economic growth and improving living standards were met back then by the innovative engineering expertise of the people in those communities.

Great Victorian cities, like my own home of Birmingham, were built on the wealth and prosperity generated during that era. From the mill towns of the Northwest to the blast furnaces of South Yorkshire and the Black Country, manufactured goods were conceived, manufactured, marketed, and exported across the world.

“Made in Great Britain” became, and in many respects still is, a respected and revered logo to be seen on manufactured goods across the world. The power of the reputational legacy of this quality standard still lives on and is so often under estimated by our political leaders and metropolitan news media.

The government’s levelling up agenda is laudable of course, but the theory has to be driven into practice. The best way to do this effectively is to prioritise our country’s expertise and manufacturing base, which is so thinly represented within the rarefied confines of the affluent south-eastern corner of the country, to create better living standards for all, regardless of background.

Interestingly, the manufacturing sector has been less affected than many others with the introduction and subsequent increases in the national minimum wage, as has been identified in Crowe’s most recent manufacturing report.

This is because manufacturing workforces quickly gain practical engineering skills and the jobs are well paid. In fact, there continues to be a shortage of manufacturing workers and an availability of jobs.

What better way to meet “levelling up” objectives based on educational and ethnic background targets, as well as geographically, than supporting an industry that creates and radiates wealth in low-income communities, while bettering the economic health of UK plc along the way, by improving our manufacturing base and our balance of payments too?

Only a couple of years ago, the government abandoned its industrial strategy just at a time when global supply chain, security and energy issues dictated the need for the UK to innovate our way through.

Following the Queen’s Speech earlier this month, the initial response of businesses has been to call for a return to the strategic importance of our manufacturing and innovative base by appointing a minister for manufacturing and a petition has been initiated.

A dedicated minister would be well placed to target the previously unsupported plight of manufacturers in terms of frightening energy costs, supply chain issues around spiralling costs and unavailability of certain raw materials. They would work to create a strategy to support our manufacturing sector, to add value by solving the problems of our world, both today and in the future, while meeting the levelling up and regeneration objectives at the same time.

What’s more, it would help to solve our transport issues and contribute to solving the energy crisis, while delivering on our net zero commitments made at the COP summit, just last year.

The percentage of GDP controlled by the manufacturing sector is often billed as limited, usually between 10-12%, but this radiates into other sectors too.

For every OEM job, there are 10 others in the supply chain, though and these well-paid jobs must surely provide support in other sectors such as retail, real estate, business and professional services, agriculture, and others maybe?

As an island, we are short on natural resources, but have a wealth of talent and a reputation for high value add. There is a need for world beating innovation in energy generation, transport, efficient food production, carbon offset and other global issues that haven’t been solved yet.

Why shouldn’t it be us, right here in the UK, that solves these problems?

UK technology is responsible for arguably the best aero engines in the world, and we are ahead of the world in designing the best next generation small nuclear reactors too. We have the best aircraft carrier design, and our innovators also lead in ground-breaking LED driver technology, and the best designs for consumer goods, from handbags and clothes design to vacuum cleaners.

We also produce the best diggers, soon to be powered by hydrogen internal combustion engines; world beating innovation, being conceived designed and produced right here, right now.

What’s more, major infrastructural projects in the UK, already emerging from the ground, will require UK-based engineering and manufacturing capability and a secure supply chain to deliver results in a manner that still achieves net zero targets within budget.

These include major projects such as HS2, Hinkley Point and the various regional rail and road improvement network developments.

We have already mentioned the next generation of small nuclear power plants and we can add to this extended onshore and offshore wind provision, also a key plank of the government’s energy strategy. Powering a lot of GDP growth in the future and achieving levelling up, will be the country’s pledge to build more housing.

To do all the above, we need ethical and affordable supply chains for raw material, power and components and not ones where we are just shifting the CO2 emissions to the Far East. The net gain of that policy for our planet will be nil and we will be taking opportunities from our own people in the process.

The Chancellor is basing our COVID-19 recovery on an export and innovation-led economy. A Manufacturing Minister should arguably be a cabinet post, to be strategic and drive an agenda where we are not reliant on rogue nations for power or semi-conductors and for rolling stock that isn’t defective and falls apart, like the infamous, imported and defective West Midlands trams!

About the author

Johnathan Dudley

Johnathan Dudley is Head of Manufacturing and Managing Partner of Crowe’s Midlands practice. He has also served on the Crowe U.K. LLP Supervisory Board and its Corporate Governance and Strategy Teams. Johnathan established and now leads the firm’s Manufacturing Business group and Manufacturing Business Network.