The Great Debate UK

Government must act on bold promises to UK manufacturers


radley1- Steve Radley is Director of Policy at EEF, Britain’s manufacturers’ organisation. The views expressed are his own.

This week the index of manufacturing activity in the UK moved into growth territory for the first time in more than a year. While that does not necessarily mean that the recession is over, it does suggest that we should be thinking a bit more about what sort of recovery we are likely to see and how well placed the UK is to meet it.

A common assumption is that a UK recovery will be export-led, taking advantage of a cheaper pound and the large stimulus packages which are likely to lift overseas markets such as China and United States out of the global recession faster than in this country. Looking longer-term, shared global challenges such as security, ageing populations and slowing climate change and adapting to it will create major opportunities for UK companies, particularly in manufacturing.

This raises questions as to how well equipped we are to take advantage of these opportunities. On the positive side, UK manufacturing has become much competitive in recent years with productivity gains outstripping most of our major competitors. A greater focus on innovation, design, niche products and service offerings has helped UK firms shift away from competing on price terns with lower wage cost countries. At the same time, though, we have been slow to take advantage of growth opportunities. Other European countries have made faster inroads into rapidly expanding Asian markets, while nations such as Germany, Denmark and Spain have stolen a march on us in the onshore wind industry, despite the substantial advantages our physical geography provides us.