Manufacturing back on the agenda

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Manufacturing

The food and drink industry has an impressive record of job creation
The food and drink industry has an impressive record of job creation
Manufacturing in the UK is firmly back on the government’s agenda, with the recent publication of the Foresight Report on the Future of Manufacturing, under the leadership of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Given that food and drink now comprises a large part of what is now made in the UK, the sector will be hoping that it will now get more attention from ministers about the structural support it needs to prosper. It could be disappointed.

The danger, as ever, will be that government focuses too much on the more glamorous sectors of manufacturing, such as automotive and aerospace, despite food and drink’s impressive track record of wealth and job creation, and its export potential.

In his forward to the Report, the closest that BIS secretary Vince Cable got to mentioning food and drink was in a reference in the government’s industrial strategy on “long-range plans to strengthen advanced manufacturing sectors”, ​where he included “life sciences” ​among the target sectors, which included of course cars, planes and energy supply. Cable clearly doesn’t see food and drink as an advanced manufacturing sector.

There was some representation from food and drink manufacture on the high level stakeholder group chaired by Cable, which advised on the Report. This was in the form of Nestlé UK's chief engineer Richard Martin. But he was just one among 34. And there was nobody from the sector on the lead expert group of members.

Huge contribution

Commenting on the launch of the Report, Melanie Leech, director general at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) described it as: “a timely reminder of the huge contribution manufacturing makes to the UK economy, the quality of jobs it provides and its potential to deliver more with the right policy frameworks”.

Leech added: “I’m pleased to see that the key drivers identified in the Report: innovation, exports and increasing the skills pipeline are the same as those identified in 2020, the FDF​s vision shared with government to deliver 20% sustainable growth by 2020.”

However, Leech noted that delivering increased rates of sustainable growth would require the industry to attract and retain the best talent. “We’ll need to ensure that the 170,300 new people we require by 2020 are equipped with the right skills …

“In turn, those talented individuals will grow our exports and power up our product and process innovation to keep UK food and drink manufacturing at the forefront of the global race.”

2.5M people

Overall, the manufacturing sector accounts for over 10% of UK gross domestic product, more than half of UK exports, around three quarters of business expenditure on research and development, and employs around 2.5M people. According to the FDF, the industry employs up to 400,000 people and as many as 1.2M in ancillary services. It accounts for 16% of the UK’s total manufacturing sector by value, the FDF adds.

In a joint report released last month FoodDrinkEurope, the FDF’s EU equivalent, called for targeted action on employment and skills to ensure the future of the sector.

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