Recently in Manufacturing Category
On bank holiday Monday the BBC Radio Four Series You and Yours broadcast a programme 'Made in Britain: Does it still make sense to manufacture in the UK?' which made interesting listening.
What listeners will have gleaned from listening to this programme is that whilst much still made in Britain, a great deal of what we consume is made abroad.
What is especially annoying is that even though any goods we buy may have imprimatur - usually a union flag - this does not guarantee that they were entirely produced with British-made components or that British workers were employed in the attendant processes.
Interestingly among the makers of goods there were mixed views on whether there is merit in still manufacturing in this country. It will come as no surprise that some choose to have their goods made abroad, especially in the Far East, where the costs of the components and, of course, labour are far cheaper.
One of the conclusions to the programme was that just because something purports to be British does not automatically mean that it is particularly good as anyone who bought a British Leyland car produced at Longbridge in the 1970s will attest; my dad had two allegros one of which virtually rotted away!
What did emerge, however, was that in this country we still possess incredible ingenuity, creativity and design and engineering expertise. What we cannot compete against are the wage levels that make goods produced in this country much higher than others.
Additionally, what this programme explained was that we import a great deal more than we did in, say the 1970s. The consequence of this is that whilst our exports are cheaper because of the decline in the pound in recent years we need to pay more for the goods and components we import.
Small wonder therefore that our balance of payments look so dreadful and show a deficit of £57.7 billion for last year compared to a deficit of £20 billion in 2011. That this deficit represents 3.7% of GDP is a worry and is the biggest since 1989.
The answer seems deceptively simple; make more goods that we can sell abroad.
Much has been made of our position as the world's sixth largest producer and provider of low-carbon goods and services. But there are signs we are faltering. Manufacturing, the largest slice of activity in the sector, contracted in 2010/11 while China, the US and others are experiencing rapid growth in this sector.
We now have the long awaited plans for reforming the UK banking sector in particular safeguards to try to make it harder for the government to end up on the hook for a big bank and all its risky investment business going down bust.
The government has finally responded to the Frost/Black review of sickness absence recommendations which was published back in November 2011. The initial review was aimed at making a step change in the issue of tackling both short and long term absence, a problem that still costs the UK economy large sums each year
Hello, it's a pleasure to be here in the West Midlands to lead our UK Trade and Investment team and help support companies in the region to internationalise. We're here to help and want to increase the support we give to companies to help them explore new markets and grow their exports in their current markets.
In the Autumn Statement, UKTI was given an increase in budget of £70 million per year. For the West Midlands, this means an additional seven people in the region supporting business from April, and a significant increase in the size and flexibility of the financial support we can give to exporters.
There is plenty of opportunity to trade, a market for everyone and support to get you there.
However, there's no doubt we face an enormous economic challenge. We've run a trade deficit nearly every year for the last 50 years and only one in five of our companies export, when the European average is one in four. We've got to shift the economy from one that's built on debt, to one that's built on trading and selling our goods overseas. There isn't another option.
In the West Midlands, our goal is to double exports from around £20 billions in 2012, to £40 billions by 2020. If we achieve these demanding targets, we will rebalance our economy and see growth driven by exports, jobs and innovation generated by companies challenged by the rigours of international trade.
I'm confident that the region is up to this challenge. Jaguar Land Rover, Carillion and JCB are brilliant companies, leading the way and breaking into new markets, including China.
A big part of my role will be to get the whole supply chain for these innovative companies to look at where they too can find new markets. West Midlands firms are exporting more to China than any other UK region. In the first nine months of last year, we exceeded the whole of the previous year's exports to China.
While our traditional markets such as Europe and the US have struggled as they, like us, have had to contend with reduced public spending and lack of credit to drive their economies, they still remain important to our export performance.
Further afield, I have seen first hand how UK companies can be successful in the more developed markets such as Australasia. I spent the last four years heading-up our teams in Australia and New Zealand where UK companies of all sizes are winning business and competing with the best international firms. There is plenty of demand for our goods and services out there.
There are also the opportunities provided by countries such as India, China, Brazil, and other fast growing markets such as Russia, Thailand and South Africa. These markets can be more challenging and companies often require additional support to understand the cultural and business environment. Language too can be seen as a barrier to trading with these countries, but there is support available to help companies overcome these difficulties.
We will continue to work hard to secure bigger slices of bigger contracts around the world for UK companies through our High Value Opportunities programme. I worked on one of these opportunities in Australia where the value of contracts to extract gas from Northern Australia are truly enormous and should be accessible to a wide range of companies in the oil and gas sector, but also in IT, catering, legal, finance, health and safety, general engineering and many others.
We will also need to reach into areas of the economy that we have not traditionally worked closely with. This includes getting more medium sized businesses exporting. These businesses are at the heart of our economy and often require different forms of support to grow internationally. We have recently recruited staff to focus on this sector of business and, with the help of partners we are working hard to ensure we can deliver the support they need, when they need it, and in the way that has most impact for their business.
We can support firms of all shapes and sizes - whether they make things or deliver services. We will develop services for those companies who export through the internet, helping them to export more strategically. Leading the way for this type of business is success story Bean2Bed which makes world-class products in the West Midlands and sells them across the globe. One of the company's directors happens to be my next door neighbour so I don't need to go very far to get feedback on the support we give to companies like this.
I would welcome a dialogue with the business community to find out how we can help you be more successful overseas. We need to hear from you so we can ensure we remain focussed on the needs of business.
Challenge me, and UKTI to deliver what you need to grow. I have set up a discussion on the LinkedIn group below. I would really like to hear from you.
Paul Noon, OBE, took up the role of West Midlands International Trade Director at UK Trade & Investment in December 2012. Paul's most recent post was in Sydney, Australia, where he was Director of Trade for Australia and New Zealand for four years. There Paul worked with hundreds of companies, many from the West Midlands, to support them to grow their export businesses in Australasia. He also supported Australian companies to invest in the UK.
Sydney was Paul's fifth overseas posting after Damascus, Syria; Bonn, Germany; Wellington, New Zealand and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has also worked in several departments of the Foreign Office in London.
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