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The Government unveiled grand plans for the manufacturing sector at the end of last year – but could more be being done to help British businesses?

When the Government announced the launch of its major Industrial Strategy back in November, it’s safe to say there was a mixed reaction.

While the likes of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) welcomed the move, others such as the Institute of Directors (IoD) were much more cautious and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) even went so far as to refer to it as “inadequate”. Here at Irwin Mitchell, we recognised that the Government had correctly highlighted both the challenges and opportunities that the UK faces, while also pinpointing the significant rewards which could be achieved by businesses tapping into fresh innovation.

Several months on from the announcement, there is an argument about just how much of a difference the strategy has made to businesses across many sectors so far. The British Chamber of Commerce has even gone so far as to suggest that the Government has become so distracted by Brexit negotiations that it has failed to recognise the basic issues – such as mobile phone ‘not- spots’ and infrastructure problems – which are affecting a great number of companies. However, there have been some steps taken to push on with the Industrial Strategy – and the developments could well have a significant bearing on the manufacturing sector.

Technological transformation

Prior to the strategy’s launch, an independent review by Siemens UK chief executive Professor Juergen Maier hinted how the adoption of industrial digital technology could transform the manufacturing industry. It was estimated that not only would the sector be boosted by £455 billion across a ten-year period, but growth would also increase by 3% a year, jobs would be created and carbon emissions cut. Considering such findings, it is perhaps unsurprising there has been an emphasis on technology-related announcements in recent months.

While some have related to farming, perhaps the one most likely to impact on manufacturing is the launch of three-year review of the UK’s driving laws, with the aim of ensuring legislation is compatible with the widespread introduction of self-driving vehicles. Launched as part of the Future of Mobility Grand Challenge set out in the Industrial Strategy, the review is a sign that the UK is keen to become a world leader in self-driving technology. Along with the Automotive Sector Deal announced by the Government in January which has promised significant new funding for innovation and technology in terms of vehicles, this could have a bearing on manufacturing in a couple of ways. Firstly, businesses may be encouraged to bring production of such vehicles to these shores, while secondly manufacturing companies may see new opportunities open up to use driverless technology to transport their goods up and down the country.

Putting people first 

While technology clearly has a fundamental part to play in the Government’s Industrial Strategy, another announcement highlights that there is more to it than simply the rise of the machines. Manufacturers will need to consider how they may be affected by proposals announced in February to reform a number of areas related to workers’ rights.

Among the changes put forward were plans to enforce vulnerable workers’ holiday and sick pay for the first time, as well as new day-one rights in terms of entitlements to those benefits. There is also expected to be a right for all workers to request a more stable contract, while the 1.2 million agency workers in the UK could get a clear breakdown of both pay and any costs which may be deducted from their wages.

With the Government also outlining plans to ensure action is taken against any employers who fail to meet their responsibilities when it comes to workers’ rights, it is clear that businesses in the manufacturing sector and beyond will need to stay abreast of any developments on this front and how they may impact on their workforce.

Much more to come

So, while the jury may still be out on the Government’s efforts to boost British business, there have at least been a few steps taken to push forward with the Industrial Strategy – and manufacturing is certainly one of the sectors which will be affected.

There is no doubt that there is much more to come, and it will be fascinating to see whether ministers can succeed in pushing the UK to a brighter business future.

Sources
Growth 'more important than Brexit' (BBC, March 2018)
Greg Clark announces funding as part of industrial strategy (Smallholder, February 2018)
Millions to benefit from enhanced rights as government responds to Taylor review of modern working practices (GOV UK, February 2018) 
Made Smarter Review (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, October 2017) 
Pharma deals are 'vote of confidence', says government  (BBC, November 2017)
Government to review driving laws in preparation for self-driving vehicles (GOV UK, March 2018) 
'Inadequate' industrial strategy gets tepid welcome (Telegraph, November 2018) 

Published: April 2018


Focus on Manufacturing - Edition 7

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