Demise of British Manufacturing (4)

    150 150 Daniel Fountain
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    When I started this series at the end of October it was not intended to be in the News columns of HotelDesigns. The first written as an Editorial piece in one of our emails (if you want to receive these then sign up for the Directory and choose which emails you want). However the responses were strong. The third article came out at the beginning of December and again prompted responses, but I have held back from this 4th article until the holiday period was over, as I didn’t want the thread lost in the decorations.

    The Editorial was simply an attempt to place in context for designers the reasons behind creating the Company Profiles for them, to increase their understanding of the importance of the processes they are designing for when they seek to produce bespoke units. I said in that first article:

    “In many ways the skills of designers such as Katerina Zacharides at Morgan Furniture, artisans such as Frank Triggs at Woodforms who carved the magnificent dragons at the Celtic Manor, or Adam Aaronson at Aaronson Noon are the true inheritors of the William Morris arts and crafts movement. Their involvement in the process from inception to completion is part of a great English tradition”
    I have consistently warned that exporting manufacturing abroad would lead to loss of design as that followed the manufacturing. As a result there are less local UK manufacturers for Universities to link to, with the result that design for manufacturing becomes more theoretical and doesn’t become enriched through projects being subject to the scrutiny of the potential manufacturer. The process should be symbiotic – the vision of the designer pushing technical developments in an industry, and the technical developments expanding the horizons for designers.

    At a recent exhibition there were shining examples of products benefitting from close collaboration, including some quite magical fabrics from companies like Skopos showing how digital production methods change the nature of the end product, and how important the designers vision is in this process. I know many famous and not so famous designers have made their contribution to the design of products as a part of their interiors work – indeed I have trodden this path myself. However if the manufacturer is not there to collaborate with then the ability to innovate is lessened as the understanding of process disappears.

    This view was reinforced for my by one of our new Directory companies, Heritage Silverware. Heritage has manufactured Tableware, Cutlery, Holloware and Bone china for the opening of London’s Corinthia Hotel, Coworth Park and the last Cunard luxury Liner Queen Elizabeth amongst many others in last 12 months. Owner Martin McDonagh has spent “40 years in silverware and tableware building a factory and business here in Birmingham” and went on to say:

    “Both my children who graduated in design 6 years ago have come into the business which was a shock as I tried in vain to put them off, but they have embraced and loved the world of manufacturing from the very first day.

    This was simply because they were able to step on to the shop floor and see their designs being made within hours of drawing and then learn from our craftsmen that the design would struggle to be made competitively without changes to the way it needed to be made.

    Instantly they then grasped what was needed and how they should proceed with future ideas and that no Good Design can be done if conceived or planned in a “vacuum”.

    Our Universities churn out every year Graduates into the world as though they have been taught and accredited to instantly work in industry without any practical knowledge or skill as to how to make design work.

    That’s what has been missing from British Tableware of late as our factories close these kids don’t have the opportunity or the ability to go and see and experience the actual manufacturing process and understand the limitations of product manufacture and how to go about getting around this and coming up with different and even better solutions”

    Rodney McMahon at Morgan Furniture has spent time building relationships with local schools in his area of Hampshire, and trains his own work force offering apprenticeships. His comments about the difficulties created by our civil servants (I think we should call them uncivil servants) and ignorant politicians has been echoed by Gemma Stockberger of Versatil who says

    “We are a British manufacturer and have been for 44 years now. We would be only too happy to take on apprentices and trainees, but find that legislation makes it difficult.

    Due to the machinery we use, legally employees have to be over 21, which then makes them more expensive to employ. The unemployment rate for young people is at record levels which is an absolute crime when there is so much potential out there.

    We also have to monitor them at all times when using the machinery, which makes it doubly time consuming and labour intensive. A real catch 22 situation!”

    There is much talk now about rebalancing the economy. Desperately overdue, the rebalancing may come too late to save aviation (we no longer produce complete aeroplanes in the UK), large chunks of shipbuilding (Cunard’s Queens were all built in Italy or France), our railway companies (this in the nation that invented railways). Many in the supply chain to the hotel industry have tried to remain small and nimble in an effort to survive the vicissitudes of the British economy. The reluctance to grow and compete globally must be overcome. Companies like PF Collections have successfully serviced the industry in many countries abroad, but we need more of the industry to compete with our German, Italian etc. competitors.

    Rodney McMahon has staff who have given his company a lifetime of service. I have a decorated scroll on my office wall salvaged from the London office of Wall Paper Manufacturers Ltd. recording 4 employees who devoted a total of 195 years service to the company.

    For manufacturing to survive and prosper over the fifty years ahead we need commitments from all political parties on stable levels of taxation. We need a national industrial strategy that is not going to change every three or four years. We need tax and NI systems simplified, and confidence given to manufacturers so that they take on employees for the long term. Most of all we need to get the monkey that is the national bureaucratic administration system off manufacturers backs.

    You can add your views in the comments area under this article – all are checked before publication – be aware that adverts will be deleted!

    ©Patrick Goff, Editor

    Daniel Fountain / 09.01.2012

    Editor, Hotel Designs


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