Why can’t we Brits see our own success?

Author : Tim Fryer

28 February 2011

Adrian Jones

Is the British habit of deriding our technology and manufacturing sectors now going too far?

That was certainly the feeling of Adrian Jones who manages the PR for the Southern Manufacturing & Electronics show – why are we so downbeat when there is clear evidence of increasing activity. Particularly when it came to the issue of support from Government – or lack of it – I thought Adrian’s valid points warranted a further airing, so here they are:

"Two weeks ago, we witnessed the most successful Southern Manufacturing & Electronics show ever staged. Putting aside my obvious bias for a moment, I can honestly say that everyone we spoke to over the two days – exhibitor and visitor alike – commented on how positive the atmosphere was at the show. Anyone who has ever attended will be familiar with the event’s unique "buzz" but I think this year there was an extra charge in the air; a feeling of optimism, of an industry moving forward. Visitor numbers leapt by around 30% and the number of companies exhibiting exceeded 600 for the first time. The positive mood has certainly been picked up by the trade magazines and social media channels, spawning many "good news" stories and, I would hope, providing a lot of encouragement to those struggling to develop businesses, create jobs and opportunities.

Yet if you were to rely only on the mainstream media for your news, you’d be forgiven for having missed this wave of positivity entirely. Not a scrap of coverage in the national papers, no interest from national broadcasters and just a few mentions from local media. You’d have thought that in these troubled times, some good news from industry would make a welcome diversion. But apparently not.

Not, I would argue, because it isn’t good news, but because that to so would force the media to challenge one of its dearest-held canons of wisdom. As a visitor to the show from outside manufacturing industry said to me, "Before this morning, if you’d have told me that there was so much going on in UK manufacturing today, I’d have laughed in your face."
And there it is: That old chestnut, "We don’t make anything in this country anymore".

Of course, we know different. I think most people in industry are alternately annoyed and amused by this misconception. But in reality, this idea is a dangerous one. The news channels and newspapers peddling this idea are the same ones read by bank managers, investors, teachers, parents and young people. It is difficult to see how people are going to be encouraged to invest or to forge a career in a sector that most people appear to believe doesn’t exist.

Challenging this notion is therefore critically important: In two week’s time we have a whole range of events happening across the country to coincide with National Science and Engineering Week, designed to encourage young people into science and engineering careers. These are of course welcome initiatives that are supported financially by the government, amongst others. But where, I would ask, are the big political endorsements? Going on to the Department for Business Skills and Innovation website this morning, there is absolutely no mention of anything to do with National Science & Engineering Week or even the flagship Big Bang event to be held in London. It was the same story this year when – as usual - we invited a government representative to Southern Manufacturing & Electronics: a politely worded letter telling us that everyone was too busy to attend.

I feel bemused and disappointed by this apparent indifference to industry and manufacturing. As far as I am aware, messrs Cable and Prisk, the ministers responsible, have put in an appearance at only one manufacturing event in the last year. This seems a surprisingly small amount of effort for the world’s sixth largest manufacturing economy. Is this really the best we can do? "

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