There is an overriding culture in the UK that is opposed to manufacturing industry, and the situation is getting worse. The symptoms are everywhere. In a recent interview on Radio 4’s Today programme – one of the most influential and popular news programmes – a discussion centred on the entertainment business as the UK’s fastest-growing industry. `Forget about manufacturing, it’s all gone,’ decreed a top national newspaper columnist. Flippant exaggeration for effect, maybe. But the worrying thing is that the comment went unchallenged, as if everyone is starting to agree with this ludicrous position.
The meeting of 15 or so industrialists with trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers this Friday afternoon will not dwell on this problem for long, though they will attempt to set an agenda for reviving the long-term fortunes of manufacturing industry. But public misconception of engineering and manufacturing is central to the whole malaise and should not be ignored.
It is a problem that diverts bright school leavers into often short-lived careers in the seemingly glamorous service sector; it causes a shortage of the right sort of graduates and the right sort of courses; it leads to the shortfall of inspiring maths and science teachers; it also aggravates a decline in understanding of science and technology among those who analyse and influence decisions on investment. And it is the problem that informs the herd instinct of the City away from small, promising manufacturing and engineering firms, starving them of capital to invest and develop.
Some think the situation has become so ingrained that the word `manufacturing’ should be dumped from the English language. If `manufacturing’ were a brand, the argument goes, its owners would be forced to come up with a new identity.
Don’t even think about it. This, surely, would be to admit defeat.