Why manufacturing is important to North Devon

North Devon Gazette

There has been a lengthy debate about how collectively we can ensure that Northern Devon receives as much support as possible from regional and national agencies.  Â

The levelling-up debate, which has just started, is supposed to address this issue. Inevitably, however, the question of new money proves to be both elusive and a huge consumer of time from valuable people who could be doing other things.  Â

We were told, for example, that the government would be replacing on a like-for-like basis the previous European Programme funding pot, which was £1.5 billion across the country. We now know that the maximum amount on the table will be approximately 25% of this, with hints that it could slightly increase in subsequent years.  Â

The mood music in Whitehall is also heavily influenced by the urban lobby. Senior officials prefer to invest in Cities as they believe that these are the only entities large enough to achieve critical mass.  Â
They are difficult to persuade when it comes to supporting Towns. The arguments become even more painful when trying to ensure that money is appropriately allocated to areas that are predominantly rural. Â

It is for this reason that we need to showcase the special assets and attributes of our subregion. Â

Within this, the importance of manufacturing is a story which we need to highlight. Â

Whilst within the UK economy manufacturing only accounts for 10% of gross domestic product, it is in fact responsible for 45% of all of our exports and 65% of private sector research and development spending.  Â

When account is taken of the indirect benefits arising, then it would be more accurate to say that this sector accounts for more than 20% of GDP and up to a total of around 7.5 million jobs.  Â

The performance of the manufacturing sector generally has clearly been affected by the long list of difficulties we are all experiencing – Covid, Brexit, staff shortages, material shortages etc.  2021 should have been a bumper year but for these issues.  Â

Realistically, current levels of manufacturing output are still just below those of February 2020. Interestingly, a similar comparison with the services sector shows that this has now recovered to above pandemic levels. Â

There can be no doubt that manufacturing is one of the many jewels in the crown for Northern Devon. We are perhaps all at fault in not talking enough about this.Â

Look, however, no further than the quite exceptional work undertaken by the North Devon Manufacturers Association. For many years they have been the public face for this sector.  They have lobbied.  They have coordinated.  They have celebrated success through their awards programmes.  They have provided advice and guidance for careers, skills and education.  Â

Currently they are leading the way in promoting sustainable manufacturing and are encouraging all their members to understand and improve their environmental performance. Included in this is clear guidance on issues, such as waste materials and low carbon productivity. This provides a facility for either small manufacturers or new entrance into this sector to get up to speed quickly.

FabLab Barnstaple and FabLab Exeter is a great example, as a small-scale workshop offering digital fabrication. It’s an open access, not-for-profit, community resource where anybody can invent and make just about anything.Â

To secure further investment for our existing manufacturing companies often involves persuading remote boards (many of these internationally based) that North Devon is a good place to run a productive business and has a long term and sustainable future.  Â

Nothing tells this story better than the ability to demonstrate that we have the requisite skills within the local community, both for direct employment but also to support the local supply chain, which is crucial to many of these manufacturing processes. Â

I commend all those who are not fully aware of what this sector does to make contact with the Manufacturers Association. This is something we should shout about, but louder please.Â