A leading biotechnology entrepreneur this week denounced manufacturing industry as finished – just moments after being welcomed to the CBI conference podium by the chairman of `traditional’ car manufacturing giant Vauxhall Motors.
Dr Christopher Evans, chairman of Merlin Ventures, said the industrial map of the UK was changing beyond recognition. `The stone age has gone, the industrial age has gone. The old big manufacturing industries are out. We are now entering the knowledge economy and the digital revolution,’ he said.
His remarks were later challenged by many manufacturers, including Vauxhall chief Nick Reilly, who thanked Evans for his thought-provoking comments `despite destroying my company within the first 10 minutes.’
The tension between traditional industry and high technology start-ups has become an increasingly common part of the on-going debate over policy to promote industry. When the Competitiveness White Paper was launched last year, some regarded it as ignoring sophisticated technological advances being made in `traditional’ industries such as the steel or the aerospace sectors.
`The idea that manufacturing is out of date is just wrong,’ said professor Gary Hamel, research fellow at Harvard University and chairman of management consultancy Strategos. `A lot of innovation is not based in high-tech companies. There is a great danger when you start to take a sectoral bias over where innovation should be based.’
Clive Palmer, commercial director of Alstom UK, said comments such as Evans’ helped create a state of mind that manufacturing was in terminal decline.
`It’s up to us in industry to fight back, We are wealth creators, and we are as much a knowledge-based company as the high-tech start ups.’
Evans’ speech went on to describe the business environment needed to get small start-up companies to thrive, and he called on the Government to provide leadership and capital gains tax breaks to promote a `new breed’ of UK entrepreneur.