The death of British manufacturing has been wildly exaggerated. Yes, other countries such as India and China have been growing their manufacturing sectors at a tremendous rate. They are developing nations, so they should be. But that doesn’t mean that good things aren’t happening here too – indeed while manufacturing as a percentage of our GDP has declined, the value component has actually gone up. Major companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, JCB and many others in the pharmaceutical industry are world-beaters and are now selling more products and services abroad than they ever did before.
If Britain really was a basket case, then foreign companies wouldn’t be looking to make inward investments here – but the statistics show that they remain keen to do so. And the reason they want to spend their money here is that we have tremendous engineering skills and some amazing research and development know-how. Yes we now have fewer people employed on shopfloors making things – the growth of automation has seen to that – but when it comes to design, development and innovation we are still among the best.
You’ve only got to look at a company like Jaguar Land Rover. It might now be owned by Tata, but it still has some fantastic design, technology and production facilities in the UK. Everything is state-ofthe-art – it’s truly gobsmacking. The same goes for JCB, and Rolls-Royce; they have world-class facilities. By and large we have some excellent manufacturing firms and we are doing very well. That might not be an obvious perception but it is the truth.
Of course we cannot afford to be complacent. We have to keep striving to maintain our place as a manufacturing nation on a world stage. Part of that comes down to government – it’s essential that red tape is cut and pointless regulations are done away with. Also, manufacturers understand that the government isn’t going to throw money at them, but there should be a mechanism for joint-investments that enhance our national capabilities. There needs to be a thorough audit when such state investments are made, but they can prove crucial in ensuring that largescale capital-intensive projects go ahead.
I’d like to think that politicians now understand the importance of rebalancing the economy away from over-reliance on the financial sector. After everything the economy has gone through, you would certainly like to think so. But the proof is in the pudding.
It’s easy to pay lip-service to such desires, but let’s see how the government moves forward.
One last thing: engineers don’t articulate how important they are to the nation’s well-being. They don’t brag, they don’t participate in political point-scoring – they are too busy for such wasteful activities. But that means that our message isn’t heard and hopefully the Royal Academy of Engineering is trying to address that. We have some brilliant engineers in this country, let’s not be shy in letting people know that.