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Keeping the cogs of UK manufacturing turning

At a glance

  • The UK’s manufacturing industry has, in recent years, reversed its seemingly steady decline
  • The government’s Manufacturing Advisory Service aims to help both large and small manufacturers by developing strategy and improving efficiency
  • Despite an SME focus, larger enterprises are actually benefiting from MAS

Just after the Second World War, almost half of British workers were in manufacturing. While that figure is now closer to 10%, the sector is still worth more than £140 billion annually to the UK economy.

The rise of the IT and service sectors – both of which offer higher wages and more comfortable working environments – have made engineering less attractive as a career. Despite this, it is widely recognised to be a sector in recovery, led by the next generation of British industrialists – innovators with exceptional and unique skills.

Confederation of British Industry facts:

• The UK is a leading manufacturer with a world-class reputation especially in the automotive, aerospace and pharmaceutical sectors

• Manufacturing employs 2.5m people in the UK

• The UK’s manufacturing industries are responsible for 74% of all business research and development, and over 50% of exports

Aiming to intensify this growth is the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS), a government service from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Launched in 2002, it became a national service in January 2012 concentrating on long-term strategy, improving efficiency, developing supply chains and bringing new products to market. Its budget for 2012-15 is £50 million and its 85 advisers work with sector specialist partners to identify barriers to growth and help implement solutions for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

David Caddle, MAS Area Director for the East, is an engineer and member of the Institute of Quality Assurance. With both shop floor and management experience, he understands what manufacturing needs to do to grow and compete successfully in an increasingly global marketplace.

Working with MAS

Hence, while MAS’s focus on SMEs may seem to benefit unfairly smaller enterprises, David said that this work helps larger enterprises too; through business reviews and working on their supply chains. By pulling these together, larger enterprises could expect less product recall, brand damage or even engineering or process systems failures.

“MAS has always been able to provide help to large enterprises, although they do not have access to grant funding to help implement growth strategies [as SMEs do],” he said.

UK manufacturing stat

Before MAS became a national service, regional development agencies operated differently, some using de-minimis state aid rules to engage with larger enterprises.

Today, only 3.3% of MAS enquiries come from larger enterprises. Of these, 73% go on to receive a manufacturing review.

“For larger businesses, the current trend is to seek support with their supply chains,” said David.

“For example, we are currently working with large manufacturers in the construction sector with CE marking [CE marking is European Union mark showing a product’s compliance with legislation] of structural steel fabrications within their SME supply chain.

“We can help larger manufacturers achieve their growth ambitions by improving the performance of the SME supply chains that supply into them.”

While David said MAS is proud of its lack of bureaucracy and the ease of access to the service, he admitted that “as we leverage MAS to deliver more intensive support via European funding this does unfortunately increase rules and regulations”.

David added: “Since January 2012, MAS has delivered 12,093 business reviews, and advised in key growth areas such as long-term strategy, improving efficiency, developing supply chains and bringing new products to market for more than 9,000 manufacturers. This relates to approximately £620m in economic growth and possibly 7,200 more jobs.”

For small or medium-sized manufacturers, MAS services are free, supplemented by grant funding. For larger companies, these are available at market rates.

Firstly, there is an initial discussion and short business review to identify improvement areas, then, for SMEs, support with grant applications. Priorities are then identified, quantifying and qualifying the anticipated outcomes and benefits. Finally, it is all about measuring the benefits when the project is completed.

MAS has always been able to provide help to large enterprises, although they do not have access to grant funding to help implement growth strategies [as SMEs do]

David Caddle, MAS Area Director for the East

When it comes to policy development, MAS represents SMEs on sector bodies, such as the Automotive Council, but larger enterprises are represented at BIS through its advanced manufacturing sectors, which maintain relationships with firms in each industrial sector and represent their interests.

MAS appeal

While positive headlines and innovative strategies are boosting public confidence in manufacturing, MAS is opting to listen to its customers through its widely reported quarterly MAS Manufacturing Barometer. A national survey completed by approximately 700 senior directors, the latest one revealed nearly two-thirds (64%) of companies questioned were expecting to increase sales over the first six months of 2013.

This mirrored overall confidence in the sector that suggests that with innovation and support, a sector once synonymous with “dark Satanic mills” is continuing to shine brightly.

Image © Getty

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