BBC’s Newsnight picked up on our theme of resurrecting British manufacturing in its programme Monday night (28/11/2011). It took a trip to an area I consider one of my home areas, the North West of England. I lived in the North West for years and you will know from reading my opening remarks in the Reviews of the Indigo and Hard Day’s Night that I have family roots that go deep on Merseyside, so the programme struck a chord with me.
The North West was built on the Industrial Revolution. The cotton mills of Lancashire were built there because of the rain (an annual 56 inches in Blackburn compared to 24 in Brighton) and the fact they sat on the Lancashire coalfields. The inventiveness of Arkwright and others developed manufacturing and led to the growth of railways, canals, and engineering giants such as Avro, English Electric, Waring and Gillows, Lever Brothers etc.. The programme last night looked at the growth of the infrastructure that made much of this possible such as the canals, and showed how nearly all was privately financed.
The programme continued with interviews with manufacturers, many of whom were frustrated at the poor infrastructure, but mainly focussed on the lack of available investment. No, not from government, but the lack of investment in Britain by the City and City banks. Another article I read suggested in part that this was because the City had outgrown the British economy, the size of deals and the amounts of money it handled giving it an International identity rather than a ‘Britishness’. The programme pointed out that not only was decision making now centralised but that it was no longer possible to get local decisions based on the knowledge of industry and its prospects. Indeed it was almost impossible to get any investment decision at all.
Perhaps it is inevitable that younger generations feel international given the global nature of social networks etc., but there is something rotten in the state when there is no allegiance from bankers to their own society. We are a much more globally connected society, but when this global connection is used as an excuse to ignore localism it is like living in an hotel that has no foundations. It may give great service but it is only a matter of time before it collapses. Like hotel guests, bankers seem to feel that they can just move on to another hotel when this happens (“we’ll move abroad if our bonuses are cut”), but the rest of us do not have, nor do we want, that escape route.
In my previous editorial I pointed the finger at the educational elites for much of the lack of awareness of industry. Patriotism is still alive as the service of our young people in Iraq and Afghanistan shows. The lack of a sense of responsibility among the elites is shown by the incompetence of the political administrations that failed to give the Services the right equipment – not a new problem incidentally as the Ministry of Defence was a real problem for Wellington throughout his Spanish campaigns, where he was forced to counterfeit Spanish coin to pay for his supplies.
The problems of this country are deep rooted and varied. I do not pretend to be an expert political analyst, but I do know that we need radical change. In the eighties designers were confident enough in the UK to look at starting their own manufacturing operations here. That was confidence was destroyed by Lamont and his pursuit of the European Monetary System. That same Euro system threatens us once more with economic disaster. Many designers are not even aware of where products they order come from. Several people have suggested I compile a list of UK manufacturers and recommend them to specifiers. Whilst there are many in the Directory, designers should order the best product for their projects. Hopefully that will be British, from Dernier & Hamlyn, PF Collections,Cliq,Axminster, Wilton, Naturalmat or one of the other hundred or so UK based manufacturers we represent in the Directory.
British is not necessarily the best, as those who remember the Austin Allegro will testify. The hammer was not nicknamed a ‘Birmingham screwdriver’ for nothing. But when British companies invest in continual product development through design as Morgan or Panaz do, when they harness the skill base of our people as Andy Thornton do, they are capable of competing with the best in the world, and of exporting their production.
HotelDesigns was started to enable supply companies to reach designers and specifiers across the globe. Over half our readership is abroad. We have enabled designers to find work in Italy, Russia, Egypt and beyond. our list of users of the Directory, now reaching over 19,100, shows most recent sign-ups from Germany, Bangladesh, Portugal, Greece, Lebanon, USA as well as Great Britain (that’s just from the last ten). Whilst the current crisis is ravaging many areas of the globe, some places are still growing healthily – South Africa grew 1.6% in the last quarter, Poland grows 6% a year – so there are still buoyant markets out there.