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McLaren boss Ron Dennis on “Made in Britain”

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Ron Dennis, the executive chairman of McLaren Group and McLaren Automotive, gave a great speech at a parliamentary reception last week. He discusses what Britain needs to do for manufacturing to lead the recovery.

Although his speech paints a rather pessimistic picture of the current state of the British manufacturing industry, the reality is that UK manufacturing is not dead, or even in terminal decline. In fact, the sector as a whole is growing, and the numbers are promising.

UK manufacturing in May grew at its fastest pace in more than 15 years, rising by 4.3 per cent on the same month a year ago, according to ONS data.

Yes, there is stiff competition from abroad, but Britain remains a world-class leader in clean tech and renewable energy. There are clear opportunities to be claimed, but it will require better coordination between business, government policy and academia to be successful.

Clearly, Ron Dennis is passionate about the future of the UK manufacturing sector – and his ideas for boosting the industry are valid. Have a read:

“Made in Britain” – by Ron Dennis

 

From the early 1990s onwards, the UK has focused ever more obsessively on financial services – to the neglect of its manufacturing.

Policy-makers, opinion-formers, market-makers and pundits prized financial engineering, not real engineering.

Today we have little or nothing to show for that – other than a legacy of colossal debt that we are still struggling to manage. Moreover, a generation of graduates aspired only to climb onto the City bandwagon and make their fortunes.

In the face of this, very few sectors of manufacturing and engineering in Britain managed to hold their own, let alone grow.

If we do not rebuild our industrial market shares, Britain will simply be unable to generate the growth and wealth it needs to ensure a return to prosperity for our people.

For too long there has been too much empty rhetoric about the importance of manufacturing and engineering in Britain, and rebalancing the economy away from financial services.

Now is the time for more than empty rhetoric.

A practical approach

I would propose that our key industry objectives over the next years should be as follows:

  • We must increase the percentage of the UK economy that relies on manufacturing.
  • We must increase our competitiveness on the world stage.
  • We must increase foreign direct investment in manufacturing and engineering.

With this in mind, I suggest to you today a clear four-point plan that we need to address together as an industry, and with government:

1) Education
Science, technology, engineering and maths, collectively known as STEM, sit at the very heart of Britain’s opportunity to lead the world in advanced engineering.

It is up to all of us, as employers, as colleagues, as parents and as a government, to reignite in young people a sense of passion in studying STEM, in order to open up more employment opportunities in those areas. One of the biggest issues appears to be the drop-out from science and maths at post-16 level.

In order to start redressing this today, students need clear incentives to continue into industry and into companies such as McLaren Automotive. I propose:

  • Closer co-operation between industry, academia and government.
  • Increase UK’s talent pool in STEM by encouraging a feeling of fulfilment and motivation in schoolchildren and students studying these crucial skills.
  • Attract and retain the best brains with a scheme whereby science graduates are reimbursed part, or perhaps even all, of their student loans after they have worked in a British-based science or engineering role for a period of three years.

Funded by tax concessions against profit for the companies for whom those students are working.

2) Research & Development
I am encouraged by the new government’s attitude to R&D. It has confirmed its role as a facilitator to bring together industry and researchers, as well to support the role of technical education and advanced apprenticeships. However, it isn’t enough.

To fast-track these solutions and create a leadership position for Britain, we need an incentive programme that makes it easier and more affordable for companies to purchase the new equipment critical to successful R&D.

In my view, further optimising the tax regime for claiming allowances on capital expenditure used in R&D is a fair and pragmatic way to achieve this.

3) Participation in success
Long-term commercial success is only achieved by working together – with government, with our customers, with our suppliers, and most importantly together in the workplace.

The ethos of a successful Formula 1 team – speed of reaction, attention to detail, innovative thinking and a will to win – are crucial values that all employees should be encouraged to embrace.

It shouldn’t just be private enterprise that bears the cost of keeping our best people in Britain. It is also the responsibility of Government to work with us to do so.

We need to maintain and improve company share schemes, in order to make it easier for all of us to reward and retain our best talent.

4) Dare to be different and dare to try
Daring to be different in order to create something truly excellent is a hallmark of Britain’s engineering and manufacturing heritage.

Only through making the seemingly impossible possible, will we create breakthrough engineering solutions to some of the most complex challenges.

This means experimenting with ideas, many of which will fail. Indeed, in order to succeed, we will have to be prepared to increase our failure rate! In our experience, failure is crucial to success.

There remains a stigma attached to failure that runs through our schools and universities, and through many companies too. This must be eradicated.

Conclusion
This is not only a vision for McLaren Automotive, but a vision for Britain. It is a vision for mobilising the very best of what we have, in order to better compete on the world stage, and thereby recapture our leadership position.

It can be done – but only via clear, results-driven objectives that are agreed by private enterprise and government together.

I look forward to talking to many of you in order to mobilise support, but most importantly to make this happen quickly.

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