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Manufacturers call for more devolution to address regional inequality

Suban Abdulla
·3-min read
Welder of Metal Welding with sparks and smoke in manufacturing
42% of manufacturers want to see improvements to local road, rail and bus services through refreshed regional industrial strategies. Photo: Getty

Manufacturers in the UK want more regional devolution to refocus priorities toward local infrastructure projects and rebalance Britain.

A new report by industry body, Make UK and audit firm RSM recommends that giving power to regions will help tackle regional economic challenges and support a wider recovery.

The research shows that 42% of British manufacturers are dissatisfied with the government’s current “levelling up” agenda.

Four in 10 manufacturers are looking for greater emphasis on local infrastructure projects over national ones to boost regional productivity.

But there is a national consensus on infrastructure — digital connectivity is the number one priority for 41% of manufacturers across the country.

Separately, 42% of manufacturers want to see improvements to local road, rail and bus services through refreshed regional industrial strategies.

The research found that businesses in the North of England wanted to see the government prioritise the improvements to local road and rail transport connections in order to boost business growth.

Whereas, the Midlands and East of England want to see an emphasis on local projects over national projects. Meanwhile, the South wants improved digital connectivity and a focus on sustainability to build a digital and green future.

The study also suggests that metro mayors, local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and local authorities should work more closely with manufacturers as they develop new regional industrial strategies and push for change in key issues across their regions.

Mike Thornton, partner and head of manufacturing, RSM said: “It is clear what the regions are telling us. There are different challenges and opportunities and these need to be tackled in a coordinated, regional approach to drive the right changes through transport and digital infrastructures and ensuring skills meet the demands locally.

“Success and growth in the regions will be achieved by giving local stakeholders, businesses and industry the power to work together to make decision quickly, with access to available finance and supported by fit for purpose Government policy for manufacturing. This will help us kickstart the economic recovery on a regional and national basis now and secure it for the future.”

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The coronavirus pandemic, which hammered many UK sectors put the resilience of the manufacturing industry to the test.

Many manufacturers switched production overnight to produce vital medicines and PPE for the NHS.

Nine out of ten manufacturers stayed open throughout the crisis, designing social distancing plans as well as producing vital food, drink, power and other necessities.

The manufacturing industry in the UK is one of the biggest sectors in the economy, accounting for £191bn $254bn) of output, 53% of Britain’s total exports. It employs about 2.7 million people, paying on average 13% more than the national norm.

Investment to support the growth of the UK manufacturing industry is an effective way to kick-start the revival of regional economies, according to the Reviving and Rebalancing Regional Economies through Manufacturing report.

It says that placing the sector back at the heart of local communities is key to “a truly effective levelling up agenda” through a reenergised national Industrial Strategy and harnessing the power of regional stakeholders.

CEO of Make UK, Stephen Phipson, said: “Manufacturing has a proven track record of bringing huge amounts of inward investment, prosperity and well paid jobs to communities the length and breadth of the UK. As we look to rebuild our economy after a year of unprecedented challenges, it is vital that the government and manufacturers focus together on building a strong industrial base to kick start the revival of our regional economies.

“Key to delivering this sustained economic growth is harnessing our Industrial Strategy and implementing it effectively at a local level through the development of strong local industrial strategies with industry, Government and local stakeholders working together. This in tandem with a much needed boost to digital connectivity will allow companies from the whole of the UK to compete on the global stage.”

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