Telling the truth about SME life today

Biggest business annoyances

My biggest hate of all is people who just don’t return calls. People who do this without an excuse (and by this I mean a REAL excuse) should be flogged. And I will happily do it. Why on earth would you not return your calls” Civil servants seem to be the worst for it. Nobody at a council or authority ever calls back unless they want some money.

A close second is call centres. I can’t find a single person who likes being passed from pillar to post as if your business is of no relevance. The fact that most of them feel the need to remind us that "your call is important and will be answered as soon as possible" only goes to highlight the great unimportance with which the call is being treated. If the call includes automated options to wade through prior to being put in a queue, then all the worse.

During April I was fortunate enough to attend the Entrepreneur’s Summit in London and heard some very high profile entrepreneurs and decision makers speak on some interesting topics. I also saw some people get very annoyed. What got to them was the suggestion by James Caan of Dragons’ Den fame that manufacturing in the UK is dead. A pretty bold statement.

Due to the fact that this rattled some cages on the day, it would have been hard to get a word in, so I thought I would save my views on it until the next column was due.

A quick look around the room at the angry people showed that manufacturing in the UK is certainly stil alive in some parts. Perhaps the large scale, "pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap" manufacturing has gone off-shore, but I know of a great deal of niche manufacturing companies making a lot of money producing their items in the UK and selling them worldwide.

I can see several reasons why manufacturing certain items in the UK is not only good business right now, but has a very strong future.

With fuel prices steadily increasing week on week, and we can see this most obviously at our local petrol stations, the costs of moving goods from foreign manufacturing bases are only going to get higher and this will encourage domestic production in some cases.

Combine the upwards trend for transport costs with the weakening pound against the euro and perhaps the initial economic benefits of shifting production of many items to Eastern Europe start to be eroded. Many of Britain’s manufacturers, such as Black & Decker, moved their production out to the edges of the EU and I would be interested to know if they still feel that this was the right move.

And let’s not forget that most manufacturing processes are performed by machines. These machines cost a similar amount, no matter where in the world they are located. Yes, labour in the UK is more expensive than in India or the Far East, but these processes are not labour intensive anymore and this slightly higher comparative cost can be balanced against the above factors, in terms of transport and exchange rates, if the product is to end up being sold in or near the UK.

For me manufacturing in Britain is nowhere near dead. But the suggestion it may be finished didn’t annoy me anywhere near as much as those call centres.

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