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As the ninth largest manufacturing nation in the world, sector growth is critical to the UK

Credit: PA Images

3 min read

As we restart the economy, what lies ahead for manufacturing?

Manufacturing is vital to the West Midlands – and the UK. As one of the hotbeds of the Industrial Revolution, our engineers produced everything from steam engines to Spitfires, from ACME whistles to the anchor chain of the Titanic.

However, our manufacturers have come a long way since the first steam engine hissed into life here in 1712.

As a national testbed for 5G and a leader in industrial academic research, the West Midlands is still the UK’s manufacturing powerhouse. Before the pandemic struck, manufacturing helped us achieve growth here second only to London. Our region’s output had risen by 27% in five years. Productivity growth was twice the rate of the rest of the UK in 2017-18.

Nationally, manufacturing is still an integral part of the economy too - the UK is the ninth largest manufacturing nation in the world. According to Make UK, the sector contributes 11% of GVA and employs 2.7 million people – earning an average of £32,500. It also accounts for 45% of total exports, totalling £275bn, and represents 69% of business research and development. Manufacturing is critical to the UK by any measure.

Now, as we face a second wave of coronavirus, our focus must be on driving down a growing infection rate. However, as we look to restart our economy, we must consider what lies ahead for manufacturing.

Just as coal fed the first flames of our factories, batteries will power 21st Century manufacturing.

In the West Midlands, investment in automotive can help drive growth across the entire manufacturing sector. Our automotive cluster, based around Jaguar Land Rover, has a huge network of supply and support firms. We have the foundation industries that make the metals and materials that underpin vehicle manufacture at more than 20 sites.

As we look to the future, the entire automotive sector must be backed as it makes the switch to electrification. Alongside JLR, electric drive units are made in Wolverhampton, with battery assembly at Hams Hall in North Warwickshire. The Government has already invested £108million in a state-of-the-art Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry.

However, the missing piece of this puzzle is a Gigafactory – to mass manufacture the batteries needed to power the next generation of West Midlands-made vehicles. Since last summer I have been lobbying to see the UK’s first Gigafactory built here, within easy reach of our automotive cluster and our broader manufacturing heartland.

That means we need the Government’s Automotive Transformation Fund, which aims to scale-up the electrified automotive supply chain, to provide the full commitment - and the economic firepower - to make attracting a Gigafactory a reality.

Crucially, this isn’t just about cars. Battery power will be essential to other forms of technology and domestic energy storage too. This is a foundational technology, which the UK must grasp with both hands for the whole manufacturing sector to prosper.

Just as coal fed the first flames of our factories, batteries will power 21st Century manufacturing. The future is electric.

The West Midlands stands ready to lead the charge.

Want to learn more about the future of manufacturing?

Click below to listen to an expert panel discuss the topic, with Nadhim Zahawi MP, Darren Jones MP, and Prof. Steve Evans from the IET.

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