Birmingham is still struggling through the UK recession along with many other major British cities. A lot has been discussed about developing green jobs, advanced precision industry and low carbon industries, but this will require investment and a long term strategy.
Birmingham at the heart of the UK economy
From the time of the industrial revolution, Birmingham has been at the heart of the manufacturing base within Britain. Known as ‘the city of a thousand trades’, it was not a single dimensioned city. Birmingham had a rich, technology, engineering and technology base, and many new innovations were developed within the region. The city retained a world-class state for many years.
Single focuses and over reliance
Unfortunately, the innovation that made Birmingham such an industrial powerhouse failed to keep pace with the global economy. This was not a regional failing; rather, it was a strategic governmental failing.
Investment in skills and infrastructure
The UK did not make the investment that was required after the last world war. This lack of vision ensured an underinvestment in the skills and infrastructure that later became fundamental in capitalising on the requirements of the global manufacturing economy.
Understanding the needs of the global economy
The recent financial crisis and inevitable recession has painfully illustrated the UK’s over reliance on the service industry. The relatively strong position of Germany’s manufacturing base has ensured that their economy has been more resilient than our own. So, is the world rediscovering a passion for manufacturing?
Manufacturing of the future
To recreate a competitive manufacturing base within the UK would be simply too expensive and risky to be a practical proposition. The UK lost its competitive position within the car manufacturing industry over a period of 50 years. To re-establish the diversity of skills, experience and inward investment in capital machinery is simply beyond the UK economic capability. The key is identifying a future source of competitive advantage, - a USP.
Manufacturing innovation and exploration
The future to developing a sustainable manufacturing base in the UK must be based on the development of innovative new technologies. Some may well be around the new, low carbon economy but not all. We also need diversity of innovation, to give ourselves a balance of manufacturing capability. New innovation will be provided by research and technology investment, but we must also remember that we need to develop the skills in manufacturing and engineering in order to make sure that these new products are manufactured in the UK and that they will continue to be manufactured in the UK.
Birmingham is well positioned to take advantage of the new economy
If we agree that any new manufacturing base will be lead by technology and innovation, then Birmingham is well positioned to take advantage of the opportunity. Birmingham has good universities, flourishing science parks and a diversity of technical manufacturers - as well as a host of design agencies. It requires a strategic vision and key investment to bring this capability together around defined key propositions that will foster this kind of manufacturing innovation.