The 3,000 redundancies planned by BAE come as a bitter blow to the firm’s employees and to perhaps, the 6,000 subcontractors who supply the firm. But what does it say about manufacturing in general in the UK? As someone who trained as an Engineer but is now a Partner at a chartered accountancy firm I believe that unless some real action is taken to fundamentally shift the balance of our economy, these redundancies and more like them will change nothing. Whether we are talking about BAE or Bombardier (1,400 jobs lost at the train manufacturer in July 2011) or numerous other examples down the years, what seems obvious is that as a nation we continue to lie back whilst our engineering and manufacturing skill-base is inexorably eroded.
For more than 30 years manufacturing has been written off as a mainstay of the economy. We’ve blamed foreign competition, trade unionism, poor management and a lack of investment for the decline in our manufacturing fortunes but the truth is we haven’t as a nation stepped up to the plate. If the same care had been taken to protect and nurture manufacturing as has been put into promoting the UK as a major global financial centre we would have a strong and vibrant manufacturing base keeping people employed, paying valuable taxes and selling the products we are so good at inventing and developing for other nations. Imagine the engineering equivalent of the redeveloped square mile and Canary Wharf and you start to understand the analogy. I’m not for a minutes suggesting that we abandon our banking and services industry, but what I am saying is that we should recognise that the balance has swung too far away from creating tangible wealth. We’ve come to depend far too much on the intangible wealth associated with city.
In the words of George Osborne, wrapping up his last budget speech;
‘We are only going to raise the living standards of families if we have an economy that can compete in the modern age. So this is our plan for growth.
We want the words: ‘Made in Britain’ ‘Created in Britain’ ‘Designed in Britain’ ‘Invented in Britain’ To drive our nation forward. A Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers. That is how we will create jobs and support families. We have put fuel into the tank of the British economy.’
Sadly the present government, despite its own words, has still not woken up to the fact that manufacturing should be the linchpin of the economy rather than the poor relation of the banking and the business service sector. To put manufacturing back into centre stage will take billions in investment and a long term structural shift, but it has to be the future. Now is the time for the government to stop talking and to start to take action.
Chris Coopey is a Partner with Carpenter Box LLP, Chartered Accountants and Chartered Tax Advisers. He originally trained with a subsidiary of Simon Engineering in Gloucester, qualifying as a design draftsman. In 1979 he moved to the telecommunications industry where he worked for 10 years. Chris subsequently went to Exeter University before qualifying as a solicitor. He joined Carpenter Box as Practice Director in 2005.