Making it new for our twenty-first century economy

IS IT just me, or is something really exciting happening at the moment? Manufacturing has suddenly become sexy again. Politicians, policy makers and even those in the financial world are falling over themselves to talk up the prospects of those of us who like to make things.

For a nation built on the back of innovation and technology, this is great news. Delivering on the new rhetoric, however, is proving harder to achieve. There’s no doubt that the government could do more to join-up policy making across Whitehall and it really needs to drive a more consistent and coherent approach to some key aspects of regulation (not least in the areas of energy and climate change). Talent remains the other issue of concern: we need the government to ensure the education system is producing people with the right skills to work in our businesses – while we, as employers, need to do more to change perceptions among young people about manufacturing in the twenty-first century.

A soft drinks company might not be the kind of firm you think about as a manufacturer. But today the food and drink industry is the country’s biggest manufacturing sector – accounting for some 15 per cent of total output. And Coca-Cola Enterprises – the company I work for – is the biggest soft drinks company in the country, with a rich history of operating in Great Britain. In fact, more than 95 per cent of the 4bn cans and bottles we sell each year are made in this country at our six manufacturing sites.

We’re a growth business and last year invested £50m in our manufacturing base, with substantial investments at our sites in East Kilbride, Wakefield and Sidcup. As well as enhancing our productivity and competitiveness, this investment supported our ongoing efforts to minimise our environmental impacts.

What do we know about manufacturing innovation? Well, take our humble 500ml plastic bottle. We continue to make this lighter, through new ideas such as a short height closure that is saving 3,000 tonnes of plastic a year. By the summer a bottle will contain 25 per cent post-consumer recycled content and 22.5 per cent plastic made from plant sources. And we’ll keep recycling our bottles thanks to our investment in a new joint venture in Lincolnshire called Continuum Recycling – the largest PET plastic bottle recycling facility in Western Europe.

Innovations and investments such as these are at the heart of Britain’s re-energised manufacturing industry. We are passionate about manufacturing and its importance for the long-term economic health of the country. And I for one think it’s great that others – particularly within government – are thinking that way too.

Roman Manthey is group operations director GB for Coca-Cola Enterprises. He is speaking today at Editorial Intelligence’s Comment Conference on the Manufacturing Economy.