If UK media are to be believed, the March of the Makers has – very quickly – turned into a slow walk. Whilst the data shows that manufacturing output has faltered and gone into recession, I strongly disagree with the media positioning of this. Surely, the recent dip in manufacturing output and outlook should not come as a shock. Indeed, it would have been naïve to expect UK manufacturing to be immune from the impact of global economic turmoil, dropping oil and gas prices, a very strong Pound and uncertainty in the Eurozone.
UK industry has the ingredients to recover quickly and to continue to perform strongly, particularly in the manufacture of high value, high technology products. Within the High Value Manufacturing Catapult we have a unique insight into the pipeline of innovation in manufacturing in the UK and from what we see, the future looks bright.
The important aerospace, automotive and pharmaceuticals sectors are set to continue to grow and create more jobs in 2016, in spite of the current challenging market conditions. This is no coincidence. These sectors have a track record of technology innovation through investment in capital equipment, research and development, and workforce development. They enjoy high (and rising) productivity as a result.
The benefits of such investment can and should be accessed by all manufacturing sectors, and by companies of all sizes. Technology innovation is critical to achieving step changes in productivity, and to accelerating the process of commercialising innovations.
High cost and high risk are industry’s main barriers to technology innovation. Recognising the issue, UK government supports the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult to reduce that risk. Our seven centres across the country help companies of all sizes bridge the gap between innovation and commercialisation. In 2014-15, we worked with over 1,500 companies (over 40% of whom were SMEs) and we achieved £15 net economic benefits for every £1 of government funding received.
Government now seems to fully understand the importance of long-term support for manufacturing technology innovation, as illustrated by the strong endorsement of the HVM Catapult in the 2015 Comprehensive Spending Review. This is very good news for UK industry.
Since the inception of the HVM Catapult 4.5 years ago, business demand for our services has far exceeded expectation and the sheer volume and quality of the innovation work that we do with industry is a very positive bellwether for the future health of UK advanced manufacturing,
I am very aware, however, that we need to continue to reach out to those companies and sectors that have not yet fully exploited the benefits that we can bring to them. Working closely with EEF helps us to broaden our reach and best understand the needs of engineering employers and manufacturers. Our close involvement in the EEF National Manufacturing Conference illustrates the value we see in this positive partnership. I hope to welcome many delegates to our stand at the event, both those who already know us and those who are less familiar with our work. I look forward to an uplifting event, where we face our challenges with open eyes, and chart our way towards the bright future ahead of us.