It has not escaped British notice that the robust economy of Germany has a rather larger manufacturing sector.
Much is spoken about the opening up of China, their hunger for Western consumer and luxury products, from Rolls Royces to Malt whiskies, and the huge opportunities for British manufacturers. However, we have already benefited from foreign investment providing work in the motor industry with Toyota and Honda and there will now be a great deal more Yen investing in Britain. Now China has overtaken even the US as the largest manufacturing country, it wants to diversify.
On the surface, more manufacturing at home therefore looks both sensible and easy, particularly if we could in desist from putting virtually our entire export efforts into Ireland and actually look a little further afield.
Cheaper markets are out of course, even China loses out now to other emerging economies and there is no way we can compete without the technology investment, with higher overheads and hugely higher labour costs.
Immediately when you talk about manufacturing, the conversation becomes political; in particular, the word is red rag to a bull when it comes to the Maggie haters, who are quick to lay the blame of the collapse of British manufacturing at her door.
The first weakness in this argument is that as late as 1997, our manufacturing was still at 24 per cent, ahead of our German rival at 22 per cent. This was somewhat post Maggie.
Maggie is regaled with vitriolic hate by the mining community for abandoning the mining communities that were operating at a loss and refusing to be bullied by unions who broke the laws.
The left have a strange approach to business – overlooking that throwing money (especially money a company doesn’t have) into something that isn’t working is somewhat short-term.
Our own car industry collapsed despite the incredible amounts of money chucked down its drain by Tony Benn.
It is always the manufacturing industries that the unions go after the most.Strange really when large proportion of the service industries make a great deal more profit, and it is that dreaded “filthy” word that fires so much union hatred.
The industrial revolution is alive and well however with the left wing propounding that only shop floor workers work hard – anyone in an office sits on their backsides all day and if you own the company you have to be rolling in money.
The unions are in theory weaker now. However, in these days of red tape and political correctness, daily interference in how we can and cannot run our businesses from the EU, there are hugely increasing opportunities for businesses to fall foul of something so small and innocent but that will give enough for the unions to cause trouble over.
The unions would rather see British manufacturing fail that give an inch on any argument. That same increasing red tape and HR laws pile more and more problems onto beleaguered British manufacturers, creating problems China simply does not have.
On top of that, we have the dire and disastrous skills shortages – the traditional crafts, the engineers, the builders, so many dying out. The Government apprentice schemes go some way to help but there has to be both the people to teach and the people with the inclination to learn.
That is a problem that simply hasn’t been addressed within our education system, where the children are simply not brought up with burning desires to go into manufacturing. Neither in China nor in Germany are “manufacturing” or “hard work” dirty words.
We desperately need to bring pride back into Britain, to celebrate our manufacturing successes – to make those manufacturers the icons they are. Triumph Motorbikes prove you can still operate in a mass market, with several quality niche products. Morgan Cars are the same.
We have incredible inventors and engineers still – Dyson springs to mind.But somehow despite all this manufacturing remains a dirty word.
If the government really wants to win the battle they are going to have to find the ultimate spin doctors, to launch a Make British Manufacturing Sexy campaign.
Jan Cavelle is the founder of the Jan Cavelle Furniture Company.
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