Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Is there a future for manufacturing and science in Britain?

I have lifted the title for this posting from a blog by David Smith who is the Economics editor of the Sunday Times. In turn David is quoting from an article written by Doctor Alan Reece, the chairman of Pearson Engineering, a Newcastle based engineering firm.

The article makes a number of interesting points and raises some crucial issues about the UK’s economic future. Despite reports of a recent small increase in manufacturing ouput in June, Britains manufacturing base has been in steady decline for over ten years. This is in contrast to the USA, Germany and Japan, and has lead to an increasing economic defecit as the cost of imports cannot be balanced by the sale of our goods and services overseas. Whilst our financial services sector has been “hailed” in the past as an economic miracle, even the City of London cannot generate enough revenue to plug the economic hole left by the decline of manufacturing. Whilst the eighties and nineties brought increased employment in the financial and service sectors, that trend has reversed in recent times with the growth of internet based business and call centres re-locating around the world.

Pundits and politicians talk glibly about our future being based on science and innovation, and it is here that they are missing a fundamental point. To quote Dr. Reece:

Science is dependent on manufacturing, agriculture, mining and construction to help to provide the critical mass of money and people required to sustain it. Both science and manufacturing are needed to ensure that Britain’s standard of living is maintained and the Britain retains a significant place in a world where society changes because of advancing technology.

The decline in manufacturing has resulted in a drop in demand for engineers and technicians that in turn has lead to a massive reduction in the demand for and the teaching of maths and sciences. Where then are are future scientists, engineers and manufacturing innovators to come from? Unless as a nation we value and encourage these disciplines, then we will lose them. If we are not to be innovators or manufacturers, are we then prepared to gamble our nation’s economic future on success of the city of London?

Whilst to be pro-manufacturing is highly unfashionable in the UK today, I at least know I am not alone in having grave reservations about the long term viability of the economic model upon which our nation is based.

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