A New Government: What Next for UK Manufacturing?

Following a fractious general election campaign that seemed for all the world (and polls) set to deliver another closely balanced parliamentary make-up, perhaps with another slim Conservative majority or a hung parliament, the eventual margin of victory for the Tories was a huge surprise.

For many in UK industry, one welcome aspect to the prospects of that comfortable majority is the potential to break the deadlocks that have caused such uncertainty for the past three years.

While the political system has been consumed by Brexit to-and-fro there has been little oxygen for much else, and one huge casualty of this has been the progress of the UK Industrial Strategy and it’s Made Smarter programme.

The prospect of a government able to push through with the Brexit negotiations and settle the status and future of UK industry, added to the hope that political air will become available to further Industrial Strategy ambitions should offer real hope to industry. Add to that the fact that so many of the new Tory seats are from manufacturing heartlands, such as the early election night surprise result in Blyth Valley and the late icing on the Tory cake of the Sedgefield constituency turning blue, and it might even be hoped that the needs of constituencies containing vital UK manufacturing might have more influence within the corridors of power.

But of course, the proof will be in the pudding. What is certain, in my mind at least, is that there is no time to waste, and as much risk as opportunity for UK industry. Risk because there is not a moment to be lost in the UK adopting the Smart Manufacturing approaches that will keep it competitive; opportunity because despite arguably losing ground the UK is still uniquely positioned to benefit from the new Industry 4.0 era.

Despite the prospect of more complex trading arrangements with our largest export market in the near future, UK industry has the infrastructure, skills potential, business environment, R&D and innovation environment to burst into life over the next five to ten years. We might be at the start of a new decade of excellence and growth, kick-started by the productivity leap that Digital Transformation can offer.

The latest PMI figures suggest that the new dawn cannot come soon enough for our slightly weathered, if not beleaguered sector. But with a break in the political weather showing a glimpse of sunlight beyond the Brexit storm, there is reason to hope, and no time to lose.

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