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Latest industry views and advice

July 5

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of UK manufacturing have been greatly exaggerated.

At least that was the message emanating from the panel – made up of North West manufacturing business leaders – at today’s North West Manufacturing Champions Breakfast hosted by Insider.

And the winner of this year’s “Made in the North West” awards, Jaguar Land Rover, constitutes one of the jewels in the manufacturing crown, both regionally and nationally. Its operations director, Richard Else, described how passion, pride and community spirit among JLR’s workforce is fundamental to making 400 luxury cars per week and exporting 80% of them to 170 markets worldwide.

But in the face of a productivity challenge – which sees the UK falling behind other countries – how does JLR remain productive? Else listed his company’s solutions to the problem:

  1. Designing cars to be as easy to manufacture as possible while retaining high quality and working with suppliers that have the same approach
  2. Making the right balance of investments to help achieve efficiency
  3. Engaging staff to improve skills and eliminate waste

He said: “Productivity shouldn’t mean a lower level of quality.”

When challenged by an audience member about just how British Jaguar Land Rover is (being owned by Indian giant, Tata) and, for that matter, other foreign-owned companies in the UK, Else made the case for the indigenous business. He said research and development investment in the UK company totalled £3 billion and was rather about getting access to worldwide markets than divesting from Britain.

Competition from other major car manufacturers – VW and Audi for example – meant it was necessary to think globally while continuing to invest in UK manufacturing. Else noted that, at the time of the 2008 financial crisis, Tata’s vision was to continue investing in Jaguar Land Rover’s UK-based R&D which – he said – was the foundation of the company’s continuing success today.

However, on the horizon is identifying the new skills that the workforce will need; not now, but in five years’ time. Else added: “We need to create a vision of the future and make sure there is a needs-driven skills agenda.”

But what of Brexit and the impact that could have on the North West manufacturing industry? Other manufacturer panellists at the event shrugged off the perceived threat from leaving the EU: Steve Mulholland, manufacturing director at 101-year-old commercial flooring business, Polyflor, highlighted the two World Wars and numerous, serious recessions the company had withstood and that manufacturing would carry on, regardless of Brexit.

With all the manufacturers represented on the panel talking about export business, it gave succour to the idea that the UK still makes things the rest of the world wants to buy. If today’s start-up company or management buy-out can learn even some of the lessons from Jaguar Land Rover and other successful, North West manufacturers, then the “makers” may truly be on the “march”.

 

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