UK manufacturing does not need favours – but it deserves a better press

 
Philip Salter
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BRITAIN’S greatness was built upon the brains and brawn of our industrial revolution. Excepting sporadic flourishes of genius, we hit our stride when great minds turned their energies to the tasks of extracting, designing, building and moving the world’s wants. Machines replaced the labour of men, so those born poor could work their family out of a nasty, brutish and short existence.

We remain a wealthy nation. But nothing lasts forever and the developing world is now the factory of the world. It’s easier this time around – the wheel doesn’t need reinventing, just putting on cars. And with these rising powers able to produce the goods we want for less it’s easy to get despondent about the state of manufacturing in the UK. The solution for politicians is rhetoric about rebalancing and buying British. But we shouldn’t damage our successful service sector at any cost, and buying British across global supply chains is nonsense on stilts.

Against the grain, Will Butler-Adams of Brompton Bicycle (profile, right) is bullish about UK engineering and manufacturing. He spoke during the interview about the UK being the ninth largest manufacturer in the world, lauding our dominance in Formula 1, the success of companies like Triumph Motorcycles and the fact that a quarter of the world’s Ford engines are made here. We might not make all the nuts and bolts, but can put them together to make high value products.

However, Butler-Adams believes engineering and manufacturing need a facelift. He thinks young people don’t know how much money there is in it. When schools visit the Brompton Bicycle factory he makes a point of telling the children how much he earns.

As Andrew Ritchie’s story of setting up the company exemplifies, a lack of funding can hold back otherwise sound business projects. And in these tough times, banks – for better or worse – are being constrained in lending by regulations to ensure they maintain higher capital/asset ratios.

Next week, George Osborne will no doubt add to the ongoing debate on lending, but whatever he announces, it should be remembered that banks aren’t the only source of funding. Envestors, a private investor network, has just published its latest Guide to Investing as a Business Angel. It’s a free 26-page book that aims to steer anyone considering angel investing through the basics, as well as providing valuable insights for more practised participants. Contact Scott Haughton at scott@envestors.co.uk for a free copy.

philip.salter@cityam.com
Twitter: @Philip_Salter