British manufacturing is on its knees – right? Paul Diggins argues that the future lies in our own hands

A recent Daily Telegraph article by Roger Bootle, economic adviser to Deloitte, cited contrary evidence to the perception that British manufacturing is in decline. While conceding that the manufacturing sector’s share of the economy has more than halved in the past 40 years, he stated that, 10 years prior to the current downturn, output had actually risen.

He went on to highlight the fact that manufacturing accounts for 12% of the British economy, making Britain the world’s sixth largest manufacturer. For all the talk of the financial services sector, manufacturing is one and a half times greater, which makes it very important to the British economy.

Are UK consumers even aware of this fact? And would it surprise many that the UK manufacturing industry’s share of the French economy is only slightly larger than its share of the UK market?

When we think of the major brand names that supply electrical installation products within our industry, it is a sign of the times that these are now mostly European and US-owned global businesses. While some do manufacture in the UK, there is a growing trend within these businesses to move manufacturing to emerging countries.

However, Roger Bootle stated: “UK manufacturers have not sat idly by as globalisation has transformed the world. Indeed, the UK is now one of the leading producers of chemicals, aircraft, electrical and optical equipment and green technologies.”

Within this corporate globalisation, the electrical products sector has seen two well-known UK manufacturing companies – Fitzgerald Lighting and Contactum – go into administration during the past year.

Will the difficulties of these two well-established UK electrical brands change attitudes?

There is no room for sentiment in business and it is a case of the ‘survival of the fittest’. There is also no excuse for poor management, and UK electrical product manufacturers, like other industries, need to maintain efficiency to offer exceptional quality and value in a global marketplace.

Despite the downturn, businesses such as Marco are investing in people and funding the significant sums of capital expenditure necessary to bring new products to market

Paul Diggins, Marco Cable Management

Although there is hope that the businesses mentioned will be rescued, there are still a number of successful British-owned manufacturing businesses. Despite the downturn, businesses such as Marco are investing in people and funding the significant sums of capital expenditure necessary to bring new products to market.

It is our belief that the current worldwide recession and the impact it is having on everyone’s lives will be the trigger to bring about a change in people’s attitudes and behaviour towards UK-made goods. Within our industry we are also starting to see some of the UK’s major electrical brands promoting their products as British-made.

However, there are some manufacturers that claim their products are of UK origin, even though parts are constructed in the Far East and are only assembled in the UK.

Among the clear benefits of purchasing and sourcing British-made products within the UK is the environmental implication of reducing the transportation of goods.

No longer does a product need to travel halfway round the world before it gets to its installation point. Responsible purchasing can protect UK jobs and it can also lessen the impact on the environment.

Another major advantage that UK manufacturers have is that, after years of enjoying a strong pound, which has made exports expensive and imports cheap, there has been a marked reversal in fortunes during the past year. This has allowed British manufacturers to pass on these savings to their customers.

Many of these British companies are independently owned and free from bureaucracy and the constraints of outside control. With their on-site manufacturing capacity, they can offer a personal service that is both flexible and more responsive to their customers’ needs.

In summary, manufacturing in the UK is far from dying. It is strong and fighting. Its survival is in our hands, and if we are united in our approach as an industry, we can ensure its future.