Ed Miliband took to the stage at the EEF Manufacturing Conference this week to tell the audience that we should be proud of what we make in Britain if we want manufacturing to aid the economic recovery as best it can.
The Labour leader said: ‘The CEO of Stoves said something that stuck with me. There are three words we don’t hear enough, or see enough. Those words are “Made in Britain”.
‘We can’t recognise or celebrate our strength in manufacturing unless we know what is designed, invented and made here.
‘It is about building the brand of British manufacturing around the world, and supporting our exporters, particularly to new markets in the BRICs [Brazil, Russia, India and China].’
His calls for patriotism and pride in British products were widely reported by the national press but there hasn’t been much opinion published on how much difference it would make if we bragged about British products.
Miliband called for a ‘Made in Britain’ marque, such as the one designed last year by British kitchen company, Stoves, to be applied to all British products as a way of showing how proud we are of them.
A quick scout around my desk, which I admit is biased in favour of electronics from the Far East, and I can’t find one thing with ‘Made in Britain’ written on it. But that isn’t to say that we don’t make anything here. Because we do.
The 2.5 million people working in the UK’s manufacturing sector help make it the world’s ninth largest manufacturer and generate 10 per cent of GVA [Gross Value Added] to the economy.
But how much difference is a logo going to make? Most things already clearly depict where they are made, be it on the label of a Barbour jacket or the engine of a McLaren MP4-12C. However, while a label states where something is made, a logo champions where it is made. It’s information versus marketing, and that’s an important difference.
Here at The Engineer, we believe there may be some issues with determining what is British and what isn’t. Companies that we consider to be British through and through, such as Dyson, manufacture their products overseas although they are designed and developed here. Other iconic British marques which are made — or at least assembled — here, such as the Mini and Rolls-Royce cars, are no longer owned by British companies. Does that mean their products shouldn’t wear the marque even though they were designed and engineered here in Britain?
In addition, there are many higly influential Brits working for companies abroad who could also boost Britain’s image. For example, if you’re reading this on an Apple device then you have British design in front of your very eyes because Jonathan Ives, Apple’s chief designer, is in fact a Londoner who chose to look beyond his borders.
As Miliband rightly pointed out in his speech, companies also need to look beyond their borders and increase their exports.
So would a ‘Made in Britain’ marque help build our brand as a manufacturing nation in the minds of consumers overseas? Or would they see it as a form of marketing being rammed down their throats?
Personally, I think such a marque would be better received and have a greater impact in Britain.
I believe that any increase in exports is likely to be the product of increased British enthusiasm for engineering and manufacturing. The subsequent boost to the industry would, ideally, lead to more young people being attracted to the sector, and hence the development of innovative new technology that is desired around the globe.
If manufacturing is the key to economic growth then the next generation need to be inspired by it. Celebrating everything we make with a simple logo is a great place to start, but with today’s complicated and globalised ownership, design and production patterns, deciding where to put it might be a complex matter.