In light of runaway inflation and a struggling UK economy, the panel said that manufacturing could be “the key” to rebalancing investment and industry across the country, driving higher levels of GDP growth, creating more well-paying jobs, and increasing British exports abroad.
The panel discussion was held at Sewtec Automation, who partnered with Coventry-based research and technology organisation Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) and cross-party think tank The Institute for Prosperity (JMI). JMI seeks to revive communities, such as Wakefield, that have suffered from a steep decline in manufacturing over recent decades.
The panel was moderated by former minister and former Labour MP for Don Valley Caroline Flint, who is also the Chair of The Institute for Prosperity.
The panel included JMI founder and economist John Mills, who chairs consumer goods distribution company JML; Mike Wilson, Chief Automation Officer at MTC; Mark Cook, Chairman at Sewtec; Tom St John, Multimedia Editor at The Manufacturer, and manufacturing academic Dr Yan Wang.
Mills stressed that to be taken seriously on the global manufacturing stage, drastic changes would have to be made. One solution to revive the industry was a competitive exchange rate policy. Lowering the value of the Pound, according to Mills, would help reindustrialise the country as British-made goods would be made cheaper and therefore more competitive overseas.
Dr. Yan Wang, Principal Lecturer in manufacturing and engineering at the University of Brighton, highlighted the potential presented to the UK by becoming a leader in remanufacturing, which is the process of rebuilding ‘as-good-as-new’ products using a combination of reused, repaired, and new parts.
Wang highlighted how remanufacturing would both help the wider economy shorten supply chains whilst assisting the manufacturing sector in becoming more sustainable and hitting Net Zero targets. She noted a recent survey that showed that the remanufacturing sector was increasingly positive about the economic outlook going forward – but said that the remanufacturing sector was held back by a lack of awareness and understanding amongst consumers and other manufacturers.
Mike Wilson, Chief Automation Officer at MTC, highlighted the huge potential that automation and robotics presented to the UK industry. He said that more companies were now investigating options to reshore their manufacturing operations because of the higher costs of global shipping – and that adopting automation at all levels of manufacturing in the UK would enable us to continue competing effectively as a manufacturing powerhouse globally.
However, Wilson also warned about the risk of ‘reshoring’ becoming ‘near shoring’, with companies seeking to bring their manufacturing operations closer to the UK from Asia, but still opting for other countries in Europe rather than the UK. He stressed the importance of automation as a ‘competitive advantage’ for UK businesses – and called on the government to make the UK one of the most attractive places to set-up manufacturing plants.
Mark Cook, Chairman of Sewtec, said that manufacturers, Government, and the wider industry needed to do more to transform perceptions of manufacturing as being a ‘dirty and unsafe’ industry to that of being an innovative, high-tech, and cutting-edge sector, like Sewtec’s own leading facility. Having worked closely with schools, Cook highlighted that when young people visited the Sewtec facility they were impressed and excited by the prospect of working in such a high-tech sector – but that they often came in with misconceptions and false impressions about the sector.
Cook also highlighted the need for the Government to incentivise for more companies to invest in manufacturing, especially SME companies that might be investing in their first machines and equipment. He urged the Government to consider an extension to the current super-deduction as well as a potential tailored rate of Corporation Tax for manufacturing businesses.
Finally, Tom St John spoke about the countless inspiring manufacturing success stories that he had reported on recently, especially interviewing leading women in the manufacturing sector. He said that more needed to be done to ensure that these British manufacturing success stories were told much more widely on a national level to transform perceptions of how modern manufacturing looks, as well as highlight the incredible female talent in the sector to inspire the next generation of women to join the industry.
See Mike Wilson, Chief Automation Officer at the MTC, comments in the video below
Founded in 2020, Institute for Prosperity brings policymakers together to affect change and find new solutions to Britain’s economic problems. supported by an expert Advisory Board, it firmly believes that Britain must raise its sights and reject 1% economic growth per year, which has become the new norm. By investing in economic growth and getting our economy to grow at over 3% per year, we will increase levels of prosperity across the whole nation and ensure no one is left behind. To find out more, visit: https://instituteforprosperity.org.uk/
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