Stephen Phipson, Make UK’s CEO believes that UK manufacturing’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates our nation’s ability to lead future global economic growth; if the Government puts the right policies in place.
Everyone knows that the Industrial Revolution began in Britain but what is less widely known is that the origins of modern economic growth started during the Black Death.
Like COVID-19, the plague was first detected in China before spreading to Europe where Venetian officials in the city of Ragusa kept newly arrived sailors in isolation for 40 days, known as a quarantino, until they could prove they were not sick. The economic argument goes that repeated outbreaks of the disease caused the old system of feudalism to break down.
Workers responded by renegotiating contracts which increased their wages and the movement of labour between employers, helping to finance new inventions and spread new ideas. Cottage industries consequently developed and ultimately evolved into factories. Manufacturing has been at the heart of our economy ever since and, if anything, the current crisis has underlined the importance of our industrial base to maintaining our national prosperity and wellbeing. UK manufacturers have been at the forefront of the national effort with automotive companies switching to building ventilators, clothing and textile companies re-purposing to make PPE, and food and drink factories making hand sanitizers and ensuring our household supplies continue. And manufacturing is operating at the cutting edge of science and technology: whether through 3D printing techniques to produce critical components for medical equipment or working at speed to produce the medicines and vaccine we urgently need.
We live in a global economy and have embraced the many benefits that brings with a wide variety of goods from around the world at affordable prices. Yet the Coronavirus has also highlighted how important our home industries are and the need to maintain and develop our domestic manufacturing base. After all, the UK remains the world’s 9th largest industrial nation.
Industry is crucial to our economy and our international trade, but it is also crucial to our sense of self as a nation. An ambition for a thriving, modern and green UK manufacturing sector is therefore not just a question of economics.
The task for politicians once this virus has passed will be to shape an economic future in which every part of the country can participate. Manufacturing must be a big part of that.
The Coronavirus has brought massive changes to how the world operates. Yet even before the outbreak, we were living in a time of major change. Developments in industry from robotics, to 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science and energy storage are all enabling innovative new products, but they are also creating new business practices.
Throughout the crisis, firms have explored new ways to keep their workers safe while ensuring goods can still get to their customers. Though we are very much now in the eye of the storm, when the dust settles from this tragedy, policymakers must look to the future, to the new world of work that is emerging built on new digital technologies.
Manufacturers have worked with the government on the national COVID-19 response, and they stand ready to continue working with government: to improve our education system to equip existing employees and a new generation with the skills they need to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution; to increase UK exports and drive our global trade; to drive forward a comprehensive industrial strategy that delivers the levelling-up, our regions desperately need; to create the right tax and regulatory conditions for industry to grow; and to invest in innovation so that we can help ensure Britain remains the best place in the world to do business.
This is not the first global pandemic nor, unfortunately, will it be the last and just as with previous outbreaks, COVID-19 is proving a catalyst for transforming how our economy functions. The adaptability, innovation, and resilience demonstrated by businesses across the country shows that with the right policies and practices, UK manufacturing can be at the heart of the next industrial revolution to come.