Sir Nigel Knowles: Reshoring and the great British manufacturing renaissance
28 July 2014
9 June 2014
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6 June 2014
UK reshoring is a catalyst for economic growth but a national policy is also vital
One of the buzzwords in the UK business lexicon these days is ‘reshoring’ – the return of formerly UK-headquartered businesses or the redomiciling of production to the UK.
EEF, the manufacturers’ association, recently found that one in six companies has reshored production back to the UK in the past three years, up from one in seven in 2009. The move back to Blighty admittedly owes more to the maturing nature of emerging economies, accompanied by wage inflation, than to a patriotic zeal to have ‘Made in Britain’ affixed to products. With countries such as China and India no longer providing the low cost base that they used to, developed economies can re-enter the fray. Good news for the UK manufacturing industry and for the regional economies, often overlooked by investors and unsung by the media in favour of the London ‘economic miracle’ narrative. Indeed, the knock-on effect is already being felt and British manufacturing is enjoying a purple patch at present. Activity expanded at its fastest rate in seven months in June, indicating that we are entering a phase of significant and sustained growth in the manufacturing sector.
It is more than cost that is bringing back manufacturing labour to the UK. Reshoring enables manufacturers to get closer to their customers and, by employing a UK manufacturing workforce, they are winning local and political goodwill into the bargain. In many respects it makes sound business sense.
Not only is it a matter of reshoring, it is also an opportunity for the ‘reskilling’ of workforces. New manufacturing plants encourage the learning of skills relevant to manufacturing and provide a sense of focus to practical-minded young students looking to work in the sector. Universities and their associated research centres are increasingly leading the revival of apprenticeships. A prime example of this is the partnership between the University of Sheffield and the Centre for Advanced Manufacturing. This world-class centre for advanced machining and materials research for aerospace and other high-value manufacturing sectors has attracted large, global businesses and creates hundreds of apprenticeships a year. All this activity creates an uptick in skilled labour that is helping to strengthen the manufacturing revival.
Ensuring that the UK has a suitably skilled manufacturing workforce is critical to the growth and prosperity of the UK economy. UK government agencies based throughout the world have an important role to play in promoting and championing UK manufacturing to showcase its quality overseas. This, combined with the introduction of a joined-up national industrial policy, can provide a catalyst for growth by promoting a strong joined-up national policy while developing capacity internationally to integrate into the global economy. With these forces correctly martialled, the Great British manufacturing renaissance can, and will, become a reality.
’The right to be forgotten’: wiping the slate clean for the internet generation
In a recent high profile and landmark ruling, the European Court of Justice ruled that search engines, as a principle, need to remove the link between search results and a webpage if it contains information the individual deems should be “forgotten”. This presents yet another hurdle for technology companies providing services on EU territory to overcome.
The broader implications of the ruling are profound from a freedom of information perspective, but they also call into question the neutrality of search engines, as they will be required to remove links to certain webpages. Tim Berners-Lee dreamt of an internet free from barriers or corporate interference - this ruling certainly appears to ride roughshod over his vision. The actions that Google has had to take in light of the ruling has already courted controversy, with an article by BBC journalist Robert Peston, being removed by the search giant following a request. Ultimately, this is another test of the balance between freedom of information and privacy rights. This is a modern moral hazard and a debate for which there are compelling cases from both sides of the chamber. The term ‘forgotten’ is something of a misnomer though. It is the right to doctor one’s past - it is akin to writing your own history as you wish it to be seen. It is wiping your slate clean across the board. This is not necessarily something to object to in itself, but it is important that the definitions around what is deemed to be erasable are firmly set in place.
What is certain is that the ruling is a potential game changer. It increases the rights of private individuals to remove themselves from search results. It will also make searches in Europe less reliable, as certain webpages will be omitted from search results. Depending on the volume of requests, the ruling could impact the day-to-day operation of certain internet companies, which may lead to the creation of automated tools for people to remove themselves from search results. It could also potentially have broad implications for any service that uses third party data sources containing personal data. The battle between the right to privacy and freedom of information and expression has been played out in the tabloids for decades, but the permanency and ease of access of search engine records has upped the ante. Now we all have a stake in the game and the question that remains is, should historic data be allowed to endure irrespective of the damage it may do in the present? The recent ruling signals a milestone in the road, but by no means the finish line.