Comment - Could events be about to gift manufacturing a golden era?

Will manufacturing ride to our rescue? Yes, if Sheffield has anything to do with it.

Friday, 11th December 2020, 11:08 am

Events could be about to gift the sector - and therefore the city - a golden era.

Because of their importance, manufacturers have largely operated throughout the pandemic. After some uncertainty at the start of the first lockdown, business secretary Alok Sharma wrote to them all, full of praise and urging them to carry on for the good of the nation and the economy.

And, with suitable safety measures in place, they did.

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Master Cutler Nicholas Williams, left, at his installation in Sheffield. Picture Scott Merrylees

Since then, the Company of Cutlers has heard nothing from government. But they weren’t expecting to.

Manufacturing has never been high up the agenda for ministers, partly due to a lack of understanding and partly due to the sector’s self-sufficiency - and of course this year there have been plenty of other problems to deal with.

The pandemic is one. Brexit is another.

Here again, manufacturing is well placed to help in the event of a damaging divorce from the EU.

The Star Business Editor David Walsh.

Many manufactured products can tolerate a few days’ delay at a port - Just In Time manufacturing and the car industry notwithstanding.

And World Trade Organisation tariffs are in the low single figures (although for car parts it's 10 per cent). There will be non-tariff barriers too, such as border checks, customs controls and different product standards across countries.

But, staying positive here, they hopefully won’t damage our competitiveness too much.

Meanwhile, the UK service industry, some 80 per cent of our economy, could be about to take a huge hit without a free trade agreement at the end of the transition period and lose its guaranteed access to European markets.

This would affect everyone from bankers and lawyers, to musicians and chefs and could turn the exodus of banks, capital and related jobs into a flood.

But more difficult international trading conditions could result in manufacturers ‘re-shoring’ production from areas like the Far East back to the UK. And they - and we - might source more products domestically, giving the sector a boost.

Master Cutler Nick Williams said recently: “I believe manufacturing is the way out of this mess. Our record debt has to be paid back somehow.”

At some point Mr Sharma and the rest of government might rediscover their love and gratitude for the firms that make things.

And our ever-reliable manufacturers will be ready and waiting.