I have published a pamphlet in association with Policy Network about making things – a new assessment of manufacturing and the creative industries. Much of the pamphlet is based on the story of what has happened to manufacturing over the years in Bilston, and indeed what the area still makes today. The pamphlet is not a lament for things lost, though I believe the sense of loss about major manufacturing is still keenly felt. It gives what I hope is an honest assessment that we make less than we used to but more than we think. I think we should set aside the “declinism” and the blame game which too often colours discussion of making things and instead resolve to try to do more of what we are good at.
The UK is strong in automotive, witness the recent new investment news at Ellesmere Port and, closer to home, Jaguar Land Rover’s decision to locate a new engine factory in Wolverhampton. We are also strong in pharmaceuticals and aerospace. And, very importantly, we are strong in music and the creative industries. Now you may not think those count as “making things” but I do. In the digital age when music, computer games and many other creative products can be transmitted electronically, why should our definition of making things only be about what we can see and touch? The UK excels at making things you cannot see and touch yet still employ a lot of people and contribute hugely to our positive image abroad.
I spent some time with various companies in putting the pamphlet together and I am grateful to them all for their time and patience. I am particularly grateful to Jaguar Land Rover who took me through the whole process of car making from concept to production.
I end the pamphlet with some recommendations of things we might do to help us do more of making things:
1) Equip people to do the jobs needed. There are still too many young people leaving school without the skills and qualifications they need and then struggling to find work. We also need to change the way we look at engineering in comparison to, say, law or accountancy.
2) Remain an open society. The UK is a creative society because it is an open society. It makes no sense to cut ourselves off from the world’s most talented students and workers.
3) Government must play its role. This means a culture change in Whitehall. We need to forget our hang up about picking winners and get behind the sectors we are good at.
4) We have to fix the finance problem. We can’t do more of making things if businesses can’t get the finance to invest and take the risks necessary to develop new products and new ideas.
5) Finally, we have to believe. We can do more of this and it isn’t just part of our past. It’s part of our future too.
You can access the pamphlet here. I hope you enjoy it.