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Accelerating UK Manufacturing Growth

After attending the Cranfield University Manufacturing Debate, I wanted to share some of the insights from the event. 

As always, the standard of the presentations was very high, but the one that stood out for me was that of John Reid. Currently the General Manager at Michelin Tyres Dundee and Director for Michelin Tyres Plc., John took over a facility in Dundee which had merely survived for neigh on 10 years. When he took over, rather than continuing with another restructuring strategy, he took the plant from surviving to being successful. In short he reduced over 40 KPI’s to 3 and secured investment in a business the group were thinking of closing down. He took a long failing plant to being the number 1 performer in the Michelin Group with commitment to further investment in the Dundee facility. 

It is abundantly clear he is passionate about his people and business, and the next journey for the Dundee facility is going from success to excellence. When listening to him I thought what a great person he would be to work for. If you could bottle what John has and sprinkle it across everyone who works in the manufacturing sectors, I am pretty sure it would be in a much stronger place.

The most interesting topic for me was the question around whether we define the manufacturing sector in the right way when it comes to measuring the true value and impact that the manufacturing sector has on the UK economy. In short the answer was “no”. If you factor in the total value, from R&D to design and engineering, through to production and servicing, then the number of jobs created jumps from 2.1m to 5.7m. The effect on GDP also jumped from 10% to 14% -19%, dependent on whose research you reference.  

This leads in to a number of other conversations: 

  • Is the manufacturing sector defined and valued correctly? 
  • Does it need its own rebranding exercise, so that it can better attract talent from other sectors, as well as promote itself better to the outside world?



It was quite clear that manufacturing has entered the digital age and the 4.0 industrial revolution is upon us, described as a “once in a lifetime opportunity”. Whilst the big players, such as Rolls Royce and Siemens, are at the forefront of the digital transformation, research indicated UK owner managed businesses are slow to adopt, trust or even believe the role of digitisation over the years to come.


EU referendum

The overwhelming majority believed remaining in the EU was better for UK plc, a show of hands offered around 5 out of 150 who were for leaving the EU. The reasons to remain according to Rt Hon Anna Soubry was predominantly the free movement of workforce and the benefits to R&D and academia. 


Sector challenges

Interestingly, Terry Scuoler from the EEF does not think this government is doing enough to reignite the industrial strategy for the UK. In fact, he feels the coalition with Vince Cable had a much better impact on creating and driving the UK’s industrial strategy. Unfortunately, Anna Soubry had to leave early so were not able to hear her point of view on this. 

Anna Leach from CBI had many interesting points to add but most worrying was the UK’s focus on High Value Manufacturing (HVM), which could mean we become too specialist over the next 10 years or so. The same old issues came up about the challenges for UK manufacturers, skills shortages, access to finance, crippling energy costs, short term government thinking and commitment to government investment. My question to the panel was after attending the event for the last three years, and always discussing the aforementioned themes year in year out, I asked whether we were measuring how we are performing in those areas in the UK and as Brian Holliday from Siemens pointed out, how do we compare in those areas year on year versus the other manufacturing nations. Brian Holliday put this back to Rajkumar Roy, Director of Manufacturing at Cranfield University to see if we could have some stats on these areas next year. 

As always, there were many more interesting discussions. 

Having attended a number of similar events hosted by other manufacturing bodies, such as the SMMT, FT and The Manufacturer magazine, I have started to recognise that the sector is great at promoting the many brilliant things going on across the sector, but promoting the sector at these events means they are preaching to those already converted. How do we get these conversations outside of the sector? How can we ignite the same enthusiasm in non-manufacturing savvy people, be that students, parents, education bodies or other organisations.

I truly enjoyed the event but I left with more questions than answers. What I left wanting to know was: What are we doing to reduce the increasingly strong inhibiters to the UK manufacturing sectors? 


Claire Lauder is the Director of Manufacturing & Engineering at Interim Partners. 

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