“It’s coming home,
It’s coming home,
Football’s coming home.”
English football fans of a certain vintage will remember David Baddiel and Frank Skinners’ anthem for the 1996 European Championship hosted by England. Germany beat England (on penalties of course) in the semi-final but on June 30, 2021 England gained sweet revenge with a 2-0 win over Germany in the knockout stages to set up a quarter-final with Ukraine.
I’m writing this in the afterglow of that win over Germany and dreaming of England bringing home a first major title since 1966. It got me thinking about bringing manufacturing home to the UK and restoring some pride in what was once a thriving part of the British economy.
Growing up in the seventies and eighties was painful as factories and Mom-and-Pop retail outlets closed to make way for shopping malls and Frankie and Benny’s. I remember thinking at the time that surely the only way to make sustainable money is to either dig things out of the ground or make stuff. I might have been something of an amateur economist back then, but I don’t think I was too wide of the mark.
The tumultuous changes to society over the last few years — both in Britain and around the world — has made it obvious that anything is possible so is it time to dare to believe in a manufacturing resurgence?
Our millennials are growing up with something we didn’t have – awareness — more specifically awareness of sustainability and ethics. Where and how things are manufactured is set to become a much bigger consideration for consumers. Buying new socks? Is the cotton picked by forced labour in China is a question many people are pausing to ask themselves? Do I really need to buy some cheap, nasty knock-off that I will throw in the bin after a month or two? No, I don’t want to add to landfill thanks.
Value and affordability will still be important factors in our purchasing decisions of course. But ‘Made in the UK’ is a tag that shouldn’t necessarily be reserved for expensive luxury items. The fact is, it no longer needs to be. Automation and technology work for the same hourly rate here as they do in far eastern sweatshops. And after spending a lot of time in Asia, I know their human weaknesses, in particular their inability to consider anything other than long run volume.
Well, unfortunately for them, the world is changing towards hyper-personalisation over cheap and nasty. And, as a nation of innovators, I believe the UK can own this space. That’s why I’ve spent the last four years studying and investing in Industry 4.0 technologies.
I must admit though, at first, I was sceptical and wary of the hype and obsession with “disruptors”. Even now, we have a plethora of bandwagons putting a point zero on the end of things. But don’t let that put you off, because the fact is that appropriate technology in the right place and at the right time is changing the on-shore/off-shore balance.
Without doubt, now is an exciting time. So, let’s go and buy a made in England JCB, rip down a few Frankie and Benny’s, and build the factories of the future.