May 25, 2019

British Manufacturing is Dead. (And other myths….)


A few years ago I finally decided that I was a little bit more materialistic than I had wanted to admit. I recognised that I quite like “nice” things even if I can’t afford them. But I am also a thoughtful shopper. I like to know where products are made, their quality and the ethics behind them. And my pride and joy is my Jaguar X-type. Yes, it’s a Ford Mondeo dressed as a cat, but hey, what a cat….

I am a huge fan of Jaguar Landrover. Always have been. JLR has been through some pretty tough times and it has taken Indian businessman Ratan Tataand the Tata Group to turn it around. The image of the British motor industry has been compromised over the last few decades and is now becoming a strong international brand. Whilst there are only four UK owned car manufacturers, there are many car plants in the UK owned by overseas companies.

It is easy to think of Britain as a manufacturing has-been. We flourished in the industrial period, led the world, and are now in a state of rapid decline and the growing economies of India and China pick up. Indeed it wasn’t until I heard Nigel Whitehead from BAE Systems talk about the importance of British manufacturing that my view was challenged. You can watch this on the BBC’s My Bottom Line website.

In short, Britain is the 9th largest manufacturer in the world. Manufacturing employs 2.5m people and is half of the UK’s exports. It is also 72% of the UK’s R&D, generating 10% GVA.  You can find a break down by region, useful graphs about the exports and comparisons with other countries on this flyer from the EEF, “the manufacturers’ organisation”. The large manufacturing sectors in the UK are food and drink, chemicals, metals, transport and machinery.

It is of course a complex picture. The rise in demand for Jaguar Landrover vehicles has seen its Halewood plant move to 24 hour shifts, there are also reports of companies moving manufacturing back to the UK for fear of natural disasters or political instability overseas. Indeed a recent BBC documentary looked at how a northern businessman was re-evaluating his manufacturing in China and opening a factory in the UK. The rising costs of production in China and India have made what was an unthinkable move a little bit more realistic.

“There is something about made in England, it’s not just Chinese visitors (who love British-made products), it’s throughout continental Europe, America. It’s just something we’re gifted by, having Made in England,”

Harold Tillman, British Fashion Council

Made in Britain marque, designed by Nottingham University student Cynthia Lee. Available to download for any companies or manufacturers who produce their products in the UK
Made in Britain marque, designed by Nottingham University student Cynthia Lee.

With London Fashion Week a highlight for global fashion businesses, the UK still seems to have an image for quality. According to Reuters, Britain’s fashion manufacturing is experiencing a revival as “luxury brands clamour to have their products made in a country known for its quality craftsmanship, heritage and history.”

Of course there can be a sense of patriotism which may or may not help the cause of British manufacturing. Some groups may try to use it as a political tool lamenting the loss of mass large scale manufacturing. Others may see it as being important to promote and sustain local jobs over such nationalism.

BBC Radio

The UK’s manufacturing industry has long had an international dimension. Would British manufacturing be better off if consumers were encouraged only to buy British-owned brands? The MINI workers in Cowley would probably say no, as would the Aston Martin employees in Warwickshire.  If you wanted to work in policy, then such discussions and the impact on the economy vs national identify may be of interest!

BBC Radio 4 are currently running a series looking at the current state of British manufacturing as part of their “In Business” programme.

From a career perspective, the importance of UK manufacturing is unquestionable. Large scale manufacturers such as BAE systems and Rolls Royce can provide very attractive careers. But manufacturing also relies on an efficient supply chain, the right Government policy and sophisticated marketing.  And there are even those who make money through promoting the home comfort of UK goods.

For more information about British manufacturing, the House of Commons produces regular updates. We also have a lot of specially selected resources on the Careers Tagged page on Blackboard. Now to buy a (British made, of course) piggy bank to save up for my new F-Type…..



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