How can the UK adapt to manufacturing challenges in order to sustain economic growth and resilience?
The Industrial Revolution in the UK established the rapid growth of manufacturing throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Factories sprang up in the UK’s principle cities making a wide variety of products, albeit with a degree of regionality: cotton textile production centred in Manchester while Stoke-on-Trent became synonymous with pottery and Liverpool, Swansea, Hull and other ports became centres of trade with ships leaving for docks worldwide, laden with goods that the rest of the world wanted to buy.
Being one of the ‘first past the post’ industrially held enormous privileges and monopolisation in some circumstances, but it was not long before competition emerged from many ‘new world’ countries; namely the often phrased ‘Asian Tigers’. Countries like Singapore and South Korea and former countries of the region such as Hong Kong could not only buy and transport raw materials cheaper than the UK but with large, skilled labour forces and ready-to-invest markets, many British manufactures began to question why they continued to run UK factories.
The movement of manufacturing to cheaper climes coincided with a decline in coal mining – the fuel that had powered the Industrial Revolution. The implementation of compulsory primary education in 1880 (and subsequently secondary education in 1918) began to produce generations of young people with aspirations that took them beyond secondary industry when they sought employment and the service industries began to dominate the UK economy.
Having a domestic manufacturing industry in an increasingly globalised world can create new forms of economic security, particularly for island nations whom otherwise rely on strong import agreements with their trading partners. However employing people with engineering, design and creative skills to work in a sometimes challenging and risky work environment producing goods which in almost all cases will be more expensive than their competition is a challenge that many start-up companies face in the UK today.
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