Surely if we learn nothing more from COVID19, and there is much to reflect on and learn, perhaps it is that the UK needs to stop its relentless obsession with buying cheap goods that few of us actually need and almost of which end up as landfill within 12 months.
One of the reasons why some of the countries that are cited as weathering the global pandemic better than others are that they have the internal manufacturing capability and infrastructure to respond to such events; whether that be manufacturing their own testing capability or Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). Germany, the manufacturing powerhouse of Europe, had both its own test manufacturing capability and over 100 testing labs within Germany at the start of the pandemic; no gearing up required … it is believed that this is one of the key factors behind Germany being able to process over 100,000 tests per day from the outset and throughout the lockdown period.
We know the UK has the ability to design and develop great ideas but do we really have to expect, or demand, that everyone else should make our stuff? Or are we really just a nation of ideas people, designers and prototypers … oh yes, and one that is great at ‘services’ which is basically part of the economic tapestry that just services the other parts (when there are other parts to service!).
So why don’t we make stuff?
It is not all about the cost of labour or production; probably the most successful person I know has made his living out of manufacturing in the UK … making elastic meat netting for your Sunday roast, now you would expect that to be very much in the ‘Made in the Far East’ category but with the application of technology and a mindset of innovation and entrepreneurship, it is definitely ‘Made in the UK’.
Perhaps manufacturing is not ‘sexy’ enough – not many TikToks on elastic meat netting. I believe it is definitely about mindset, education, longer-term thinking and a change in aspiration; this all needs to be fuelled by government policy, a change in focus away from the media’s self-fulfilling celebrity gravy train and a move away from the obsession that everyone is going to get rich as an ‘influencer’.
Perhaps, as with all ‘natural’ disasters, the chance will come to reflect and evaluate … time to stop our relentless consumption of rubbish, stop pretending that providing ‘services’ to each other somehow creates real long term sustainable wealth for the whole Nation, and re-ignite the Nation’s past, and now dormant, passion for creating and making things here in the UK that people really need both here and abroad.
It is time to make stuff!