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Is the 'Made in Britain' label driving the 'march of the makers'?


"I want Britain to be the place international businesses go to, not the place they leave. Let it be heard clearly around the world - from Shanghai to Seattle, and from Stuttgart to Sao Paolo: Britain is open for Business."

(George Osborne, 2011 Budget statement)

That was three years ago and whichever side of the political fence you fall on, there's no denying the logic in Osborne's words.

For centuries the hallmark 'Made in Britain' has been an assurance of excellence. Shorthand for tradition, heritage, integrity and above all quality. However, it's a label that many feel, myself included, is woefully under utilised. An international standard of distinction that we are far from shouting from the rooftops.

There are of course a number of reasons for this. 'Made in Britain' was for a time in the latter half of the twentieth century not a label to brag about, particularly within the manufacturing sector in which I operate. Tainted by the likes of British Leyland, the automotive conglomerate associated with wildcat walkouts, union militancy and industrial chaos, they were a brand that came to define the deficiencies of British industry during the 70s and 80s. An era that resulted in the 'Made in Britain' tag becoming synonymous with poor quality (perhaps unfairly).

Furthermore, as overseas markets have opened up in recent decades, many companies have taken advantage of both the cheaper labour and cheaper materials offered abroad, to outsource large swathes of their businesses.

For example, the emergence of low-cost manufacturing in China, India and virtually all Asian countries, has decimated the UK textile industry. With the number of jobs falling from a reported 800,000 in 1980 to about 100,000 today. Quality has inevitably been devalued. But when the economies of scale are as good as the Asian markets can offer, the appeal to the bottom line is hard to resist.

Undoubtedly, over the years factors like these have resulted in the 'Made in Britain' label losing some of its lustre and production has suffered. However, change is most definitely afoot. And whilst it's fair to say that we make and export far less than we did in our manufacturing heyday, it's clear to me that the 'march of the makers', described by Osborne in his 2011 budget statement as being key to Britain's economic recovery, is underway. Something that can be largely attributed to a turnaround in the reputation of British goods both at home, and more specifically abroad.

And it's not just the classic luxury Brit brands like Land Rover, Barbour, Rolls Royce, Burberry, Smythson and Mini that have galvanised the international markets and sparked a resurgence in the love affair for all things British abroad.

Of course, it's these brands that grab all the headlines but it's also other, far less sexy products that are making waves in the international markets.

From semi conductors and circuit boards made in Wales, to BAEs military arms, the wings of all Airbus aircraft and also space sector products, such as satellites, all of the above are British made and exported successfully to all four corners of the globe.

I myself work for a Welsh manufacturing firm that makes large diameter plastic pipes for the water management industry. Our order book is replete with interest from locations such as Indonesia, South America and the Middle East. And the reason they come to us? We're British. Which, for many, means we're the best.

Such perception is being recognised in some industries by the reshoring of their production from overseas. According to the Manufacturing Advisory Service, one in nine SMEs reshored work in the past year, with the principle reasons for doing so being to reduce cost, improve overall quality and shorten lead times.

So we are at least now aware of the power of brand Britain, so shouldn't we be grabbing a mighty large fog horn and loudly blowing our own trumpet? I certainly think so. We may consider such behaviour to be decidedly gauche and un-British, but when it comes to sales, it's time to put brand Britain on the international mantel it deserves to be on. We need to be both proud and loud.

Simon Thomas is the Managing Director of Asset International, a leading manufacturer of large diameter plastic pipes. Asset International Ltd supplies bespoke designs to the water and construction industries, from surface drainage to foul sewers and inter-process pipework

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