Let’s start with some stats. 80% of us now work in service jobs. We are the seventh-biggest manufacturer in the world; but we used to be a world leader. For example, at the time of the Industrial Revolution, we built more than half the ships in the world. This is all gleaned from the BBC’s major new documentary, Made in Britain, presented by Evan Davies, at times sporting an unnervingly rictus grin.
Davies points out that our shifting of low-value manufacturing to China, although commonly perceived as a negative, actually makes a lot of sense. For most Britons, China’s effect on high-street prices has been like an invisible payrise. The price of clothes has fallen 25% in the past 15 years; the price of audiovisual equipment, 80%. Furthermore, Davies points out that we have kept the high-value sectors of the manufacturing industries for ourselves – such as aircraft and racing car production. Two-thirds of F1 teams now build their cars in Britain.
We’ve seen the manufacturing industry shrink; we’ve seen alarming reports of job cuts splashed across newspapers. But Davies points out the other side of the coin; the UK is a high-end economy. The better we get at manufacturing, the fewer people we need to do it. We therefore make more, with a greater turnover, using fewer people. Job cuts can, sometimes, be s a sign of success.
There’s also a nice case study of London-based, very specific brand Brompton Bikes. They sell the fold-up commuter bikes you see in posher areas. That’s all they sell. And they believe in hand-crafting: “If you put your name to something, you’re proud of it,” says Will Butler-Adams, director of the company. They also point out that they have a huge following in China: a following which would eschew their product if production was moved to China.