Vince Cable invests much of his time promoting UK manufacturing. Running a furniture-making business, I’m very aware of the problems we’re up against.
First, we need to do more to encourage the creation of cluster communities. Cambridge, where I am based, is a great example of how cluster communities work – and several of the country’s great success stories (ARM, Autonomy) have their roots in the city’s enterprise parks. The companies themselves might not be household names, but the technology they create is used in millions of computers, mobile phones and homes around the globe. And because Cambridge has become renowned for technology companies, it fosters more. The region has a strong university community to provide research; easy access to transport networks; good quality schools; and a strong artistic community with music, film and theatre, so you get a good mix of business and creative people bringing innovation. All this adds up to an ideal scenario for cultivating high-growth companies.
But it’s a great deal harder for the average manufacturing town.
The average manufacturing town in Britain does not rank in people’s “coveted places to live” list. It is often rough, unattractive, and with less-than-outstanding schools. There is high unemployment and resentment on both sides of the “us and them” divide. Artistic and creative people do not flock there. Few companies start there. The local community don’t understand entrepreneurship and therefore media coverage is poor. The odd startup tends to be a very lonely affair. The local aspirations, if any, tend to be to get out of the town.
The very worst blocks in these areas tend to come from the mid-size companies – the established manufacturing companies who can’t see past their own egos to link a changed world to their own empty shop floors. They relate only to each other at their golf and rotary clubs and do nothing to encourage the smaller business. They are greatly responsible for a hatred of business by the unemployed local community.
It is time to sweep these dinosaurs away. Old manufacturers needs to welcome new approaches and startups. The image of Britain’s manufacturing towns has to change – and that takes total community buy-in from local government, local investors, larger corporations and universities. It’s time for another Industrial Revolution.
Jan Cavelle runs Cambridge-based The Jan Cavelle Furniture Company.
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