Be My Guest Article: It’s Not All Doom and Gloom in British Manufacturing

Those who know me know how irritated I’ve been getting by the negativity of the British media over the last couple of years, so it’s great to get an article from a company that is thriving in a sector that has been up against it. I’m delighted to have this article by Sharon Shaw, who is the Business Development Manager for Safety First Manufacturing in Plymouth. If you follow them on Twitter, you will have seen how well the company has been proving there are still manufacturers out there who know how to grow! And this article is typical of the positive attitude they always display….. enjoy!

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom in British Manufacturing….We can live the Mary Portas Dream.

Mary Portas has recently regurgitated the slightly sore issue of the decline in British Manufacturing with her TV programme Mary’s Bottom Line.  She successfully breathes life into a Manchester based company by re-opening the crumbling sewing room floor and bringing her Kinky Knickers offering to the retail market.

What Mary has done is brilliant.  Not only has she revived a once thriving business and given employment to the long-term unemployed, she has raised the profile of British made goods and opened up the subject for renewed debate and support.

There is definitely room for the celebrities of this world to use their powerful influences with the media to help our causes.  There’s a lot of it going on in the food industry.  Jamie’s battle against sub-standard food previously offered in our educational establishments has seen the government make radical changes to the school dinner system.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is making great progress in ending wastage in the fishing industry with his Fish Fight.  Will Mary’s efforts have the same beneficial effects on British Manufacturing, or is it a painful rubbing of salt into the wound?

Manufacturing is a much bigger beast and the return of high levels of British made goods in our shops seems, on the surface, an almost insurmountable goal.  British food is a feel good cause that people are more than willing to support.  It’s on trend.  Does anyone actually care if their wardrobes are stuffed with so many ‘Made in China’ labels, there’s hardly room for clothes?

The dodgy economy has pushed the consumer toward the cheaper end of the market.  It is hard to envisage a time when people willingly spend extra pennies with gusto to support Britannia and push her back into her former manufacturing glory.

Britain was the pinnacle of the Manufacturing world community.  Bustling factory floors with hundreds of employees graced virtually every town and city in the country, keeping entire communities afloat.  Manufacturing in the UK once accounted for more than 30% of the UK GDP.

It’s not all as bad however.  British manufacturers saw a strong start to 2012 with output rates stronger than the previous 12 months and the UK CIPS (Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply) report hints at evidence that an industrial recovery in manufacturing got back on track at the start of this year.  The fall in the pound means that goods produced in the UK are more competitive in global markets.  The Bank of England has noted increased production in the UK.

Higher oil prices have driven up transport costs and higher inflation in Asia has made products from countries such as China more expensive.  In addition, a need for shorter lead times has seen the sourcing of products locally where possible to avoid a wait of several weeks for goods to arrive from overseas.

Aside the reduction of employment opportunities that manufacturing once generously offered to our communities, there is a further niggling factor afoot.  The decrease in manufacturing in the UK has seen a parallel decrease in suitably skilled personnel.   If the hint of return of a truly healthy British manufacturing industry is realised, we are at risk of missing the golden opportunity. The carte blanche of a return to a thriving manufacturing presence in the UK could be marred by the absence of skilled troops.

It is clear that those UK Manufacturing companies that have survived are now in a great economic position.  During the manufacturing downturn, the wheat was separated from the chaff.  The resilient manufacturers working in the sectors that have retained a presence are producing goods that are notably carrying the British badge of unmatched quality.

An example of this resilience is Safety First Manufacturing.  We have maintained an unflinching presence in the UK for over 30 years in the manufacture of safety clothing for industry.  Despite challenging times, we have also launched new sister companies including a division providing high end swimwear and a business providing promotional clothing.

Managing Director of Safety First, Emily Wright says “As a successful clothing manufacturer, we’ve managed to survive despite having to compete against cheap Chinese imports.  We’re one of the relatively few remaining in the UK.  We’ve dug in our heels and refused to compromise quality for price.  The desire for low cost imports is now turning on its head and we’re seeing a rise in demand for British made goods.”

She adds “Investment in R&D has been key in our survival, particularly within our industrial division.  Development has enabled us to maintain a sustainable competitive advantage.  Emerging Asian economies can compete by supplying cheap labour, but they do not invest largely in development.”

The outlook for British manufacturing is positive. There are solid grounds for optimism. In real terms, a return to a thriving economy for the whole of the sector is a hugely achievable scenario, although one that will probably not materialise overnight.

If you like what you’ve read, you can learn more about Safety First Manufacturing by contacting them here.


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