Richard Willis's Blog

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UK Manufacturing Boosted

It has become a repeated cry over the last 30+ years to bemoan the decline of UK manufacturing and all parties have at various times announced plans to “get the UK making things again”. Whilst it is true that manufacturing has undergone a steady decline as a share of UK GDP it is not the case that we don’t make anything any more. Manufacting has continued to grow but at a slower rate than the rest of the economy. The UK has world beating industries in pharmaceuticals, electronics, aerospace, and defence, and now it seems in car manufacturing.

Over the last few months a succession of car makers have announced new investment in their UK plants. Jaguar, Nissan in Sunderland, and now GM Vauxhall in Ellesmere Port, have annnounced hundreds of millions of Pounds of investment and expansion which will keep the UK at the forefront of making the latest models. Even more encouraging was the news that Ellesmere Port was chosen over a German plant because of the productivity and flexibility of the UK workforce.

Car manufacturing rose by 9.3% in April and 11.8% in the year to date. The latest investments will raise that further. With the investment comes jobs, both existing jobs guaranteed and new jobs created. It also in most cases boosts suppliers, some of whom will create new jobs as their order books expand. It was significant that this month for the first time since the 1970’s saw more UK made cars exported than foreign made imported, thus helping our balance of trade.

But it is not only the UK car industry which is seeing investment and expansion. Another industry which seemed in remorseless decline has recieved a shot in the arm. The UK steel industry is seeing new investment and new orders, leading to new jobs. Hundreds of millions of Pounds are being pumped into plants in Yorkshire and South Wales in areas which have seen industrial decline and high unemployment. Plants which have been closed are in some cases being reopened and former employees taken back.

This country may have just tipped into recession once again (although initial provision figures may be revised) but the manufacturing sector has being doing relatively well. Trades Unions have been tamed and the UK workforce is more flexible and productive. The government needs to combine sensible investment in infrastructure with cuts in red tape and business taxes to ensure that the economy revives and succeeds.


May 19, 2012 - Posted by | National


  1. Like the fall in Unemployment this is indeed good news and long may it continue. We do however have to undo the idea in the UK, more-so in England than Scotland, Wales or Ulster, that it is somehow inferior to work in industry than in commerce or the professions. Compare the attitude of some over there to that of the Germans where the skilled industrial worker is held in high esteem, e,g “Herr Doktor Ingenieur” whereas if you say you are an Engineer in the UK people will expect you to carry a spanner and wear a boiler suit. There is still too much snobbery in England even in 2012.

    Comment by Steve Foley | May 19, 2012 | Reply

    • Have pride if you use a spanner , spade , paint brush , broom or any other manual tool. Not just a engineer that looks at a computer or plan / blue print . Lets bring back not just jobs for car workers , steel mills , though that is so great news , also jobs for people doing that may be boring but very important job of putting wires or a screw al day . These are the people who also make are England work .

      Comment by Paula du Luc | June 1, 2012 | Reply

      • That is exactly what the expansion of car manufacturing is doing.

        Comment by Richard Willis | June 1, 2012

  2. This is such good news , but were would I look to find out what old firms that are re opening and taking back there old work force and what this firms make .

    Comment by Paula du Luc | May 19, 2012 | Reply

    • Paula – have a look at the links in my article. Steel is one example.

      Comment by Richard Willis | May 19, 2012 | Reply

  3. The private sector generates the money that the private sector spends. The imbalance between the two is why we are in the position we are today which quite frankly is nowhere near to getting right. I don’t see anything coming from government that is actually going to encourage industry to grow, everything seems to be left to hoping that this will happen. There needs to be real incentive. Its good to see that the car industry and steel making are doing well, but that is only one small part of a very big problem. For example what about the construction industry . House building is at a very low ebb while we have massive need for more housing.
    Your point about engineers is absolutely right Steve.

    Comment by Howard Thomas | May 20, 2012 | Reply

    • Howard, your point about lack of housing strikes a note. Yet like me you must see that in our town of Reading there is house building . An old factory or office becomes disused, or a large house with a big garden is empty and it will be bought up and a block of flats built upon it. Then why do we still have housing shortages in Reading? I blame the “Buy to Rent” brigade who snap up new flats to let. Perhaps we need to legislate to ensure that some such developments are built to be sold ONLY to those who will actually LIVE in them, especially first time buyers and not merely as an “investment” by Landlords and Property Companies. With Local Authority “Council Housing” now a distant memory to many we need to have a housing provision ring – fenced for those in housing need who cannot afford to buy or rent in the private market and not only should Housing Association new build be encouraged but their shared equity schemes also given a boost. In any event we need to have some affordable housing built for those who will live in them and not for property speculation or as investments. Such a State sponsored programme would provide both employment and the growth we need here in the UK to get our Economy off the ropes as Gorgeous George’s “Plan A for Austerity” doesn’t seem to be working.

      There is a precedent for this as I understand that on the Channel Island of Jersey only those born there or with patriality are permitted to purchase the cheaper housing and others are only allowed to buy the more expensive properties above a set value.

      No doubt some would moan at such a restriction but to me a house is built primarily to LIVE in and any investment aspect comes well down the list IMO.

      Comment by Steve Foley | May 20, 2012 | Reply

  4. Steve, I’m not sure that buy to let landlords are the problem as with them the property is at least lived in by someone. Its more the investment types who have helped to cause shortages.
    I watched a documentary a few years ago before the financial meltdown and in Manchester, for example, the lions share(well over half) of new flats being built were left to stand empty while the owners waited for the prices to rise. This was at a time when council waiting lists were going off the scale. There ought to be laws against this sort of practice.
    Council housing is the best and most cost effective way by far to provide housing at a guenuinely affordable cost, but unfortunately for reasons that escape me this is not the way that housing is provided. Housing associations are recognised by people that I know in the building trade as the most costly and wasteful way that this housing can be provided. I happen to know what the deal was at the new Dee Park rebuild , and believe me the council and the taxpayer have been well and truly shafted! (take note Richard)
    Not only that, but when housing associations own the properties the council no longer own the asset that they couild sell one day if they wish or need, although if they choose to sell they should be using the receipts to build further housing. The cost of building a house is very little compared to the sale price and even selling at a cut price would more than build another house.
    The problem with housing is that this country cannot build it fast enough to accomodate the population growth and that is the principle , but not only , reason for the ridiculous costs of housing. The ideal house cost to wage ratio ought to be about 3.5 to 4 times , ie a house should cost about £90-100,000 in order to make its purchase affordable in the true meaning of the word. Likewise a house in this town ought to be rentable for £100 a week. However we are so far away from that at the moment that those potential buyers and renters in their twenties and thirties have little or no hope. An interesting figure is that the UK spends about £21 billion annually on housing benefit, apparantly much of it on assisting working people who simply cannot make ends meet.
    Rising house prices always seem to be a ‘good’ thing, but the side effects are not what I would call desireable. As a country though moves to kick start house building can only be a good thing.

    Comment by Howard Thomas | May 21, 2012 | Reply

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