I watched the Mary Portas programme last night, this is the new one which is all about re-introducing manufacturing back to the UK. Her route to do this is to design and manufacture good quality ladies underwear which can compete with the best in the world. The finished product has to contain 100% UK sourced materials and design and be manufactured in the UK by people who live in the UK.
Now, everyone with a modicum of grey matter knows that this makes perfect sense; if we wish to get out of the current financial hole, manufacturing is a key to doing so. We need to make good quality, well designed and competitively priced goods which people want to buy, not just in the UK but worldwide.
You may remember a woman who had a differing view? Does the name Thatcher sound familiar to you? No not the woman who got the sack from the One Show for saying things which the “righteous” took offence at. No. That was the daughter. It’s the Mother who decided that making things wasn’t a good way to go. Maggie decided that a service economy was the way to go. Much less chance of people downing tools and the like.
This isn’t a piece on Maggies failings or otherwise, history will reflect her achievements or failures such as they might be. However, the change that was wrought during Maggies watch was significant. Manufacturing was out. Too many union members, too many strikes, too many poorly made and far from fully developed over-priced products. Overseas competition completely outshone these and more resulting in the decimation of the car, motorcycle, electronics etc. etc. etc. industries.
What Maggie also did, at that time, was to increase sharply the exportation of jobs. If you buy foreign products your money pays the salaries of workers in the originating countries not people working in the UK. It was a pretty damaging state of affairs. In later years the export of jobs became even more significant. The Far East “Tiger” economies were cheaper places to manufacture, then there was Eastern Europe for UK businesses to gain “cost efficiencies” and now it’s China and India and when their costs catch up to the UK it will be some other developing country.
There were a few bright spots where overseas manufacturers set up production units in the UK. This was supposed to be because of the EU. Make your stuff in the UK and get access to the internal EU market. Honda, Toyota, Nissan for example did this and it’s been a success for them. Of course we also imported low-rent, low skill, high worker turnover jobs in call centres and the like too, not so positive although a job is a job.
Linn Electronics, Dyson, JCB and Aston Martin for example bucked the trend. They designed good quality, industry leading products which people bought at higher prices than the competition charded. These businesses sell on quality, design, performance and service and they continue to be successful even during times of recession and beyond.
But back to Mary. She might not be your favourite person but at least she tries to be positive and tries to make things happen. I repeat that the best way out of the current financial shambles is to make good quality, well designed and competitively priced goods which people want to buy, not just in the UK but worldwide.
Last night she employed young people who couldn’t get jobs for a number of reasons. She also tried to source lace in the UK which turned out to be fairly difficult. Nottingham used to be the lace centre of the UK apparently although I’m not sure if Robin Hood, his merry band of men and his girlfriend knocked lace out during quiet moments when they weren’t out robbing the rich to give to the poor. She found a guy who could do it, at least he should have been able to do it. The cliff-hanger at the end of the episode had her decrying him for not delivering and putting the whole project in jeopardy. Just like an episode of Doctor Who cliff-hanger; although at no time ever have I heard Doctor Who mention gussets which Mary managed to do.
The bottom line then. Let’s buy stuff made and sold locally or regionally or nationally. There is good stuff and good service out there. Let’s support the importing of quality jobs. Let’s support any initiative, which results in manufacturing businesses opening up locally. Local jobs in local businesses for local people first. Local jobs for inward investment businesses for local people second. If your bank, insurance company, telephone provider or any other business you deal with uses overseas call centres complain first threaten to move your business to another provider who does have UK call centres with UK staff. This will keep more money in the UK and keep more UK people in jobs.
I mentioned Dyson as a great example. They are, apart from the fact that they manufacture overseas. Take time to remind them that people in the UK buy their products and potential customers could just as easily buy someone elses version of their design.
It’s a double edged sword. We invest in their products by buying them and they invest in their customer base by manufacturing locally and employing UK people. Simple.
Good luck to Mary. Her sleb status will make the path easier but it still won’t be that easy for her. I’ve actually seen her products in the flesh as it were and they were pretty spanking! All puns may or may not be intended and this blog declines to accept responsibility one way or another.
Onwards and upwards.