There was a time when Britain was the workshop of the world. Things haven’t changed as much as some seem to think: Britain recently overtook France to become the world’s eighth biggest manufacturer and may soon overtake Italy when the latest figures become available.
Although manufacturing employs only 2,600,000 people, it accounts for 44% of our exports. Surveys show huge support throughout the country for Britain to focus on developing manufacturing further, with 70% of people polled agreeing that the UK should aim to join the top five.
Professionals in manufacturing jobs are better paid than those who opt for careers in service sectors. Their average annual earnings are around £32,047 compared to £27,548 in service industries.
The sector reinvesting the highest percentage of its revenues is machinery manufacturing, followed by transport and electronics. British products like bearings, couplings, spiral duct and other industrial components are highly regarded around the world (see for example https://www.dustspares.co.uk/ductwork-parts/galvanised-steel-spiral-duct.html).
The region with the highest manufacturing productivity is the north-west of England (Lancashire and Cumbria), while the regions with the lowest are London and the south-east and Scotland. Output from the north-west region alone is almost double that from the whole of Scotland.
In most regions of the UK, 10-12% of people are employed in manufacturing, whilst in Scotland it is just 6.5% and in Greater London just 2.2%.
The figures make some sense of voting in recent referendums. Although the European Union collectively buys 48% of our manufactured exports, the bulk of our imports come from Germany, while our single largest customer is the United States. So there is evidence that Brexit will indeed benefit manufacturing in the regions where most people voted for it, making European imports more expensive and British-made goods more competitive.
The regions where most people voted to remain are those where manufacturing is weakest.
In most of the UK, more young people are turning away from expensive university degrees and seeking apprenticeships. Our educational sector still has problems answering this demand, with many introductory courses but few opportunities to develop advanced specialist skills. With Brexit beginning to dissuade skilled foreign workers from taking those vacancies, it’s to be hoped the government down in non-industrial London will begin to notice there is both a need and an opportunity.