Blog Type, Fellowship Blog, Fellowship Type, Industry Sector, IPT, Manufacturing, Sector based Fellowships, IPT Blog | April 2016
British Industry: Baroness Prosser OBE
As a trade union organiser with the then TGWU, I always enjoyed and found fascinating tours of workplaces which made things. Over many years I have visited plants which make chocolates, garage doors, cars, boats, engine parts, as well as cakes and biscuits.
However, if I was to be able to speak in the House with any authority I needed to update my manufacturing knowledge. The IPT Fellowship has been an enjoyable and informative way of doing that.
My first host company was 3M, a global manufacturer, mainly business to business with around 60,000 products to its name. I visited Atherstone, Aycliffe and Loughborough and saw the amazingly modern techniques used in the manufacture of abrasives, medical equipment, plastic systems for train carriage livery and specialist materials. The train carriage livery is especially interesting. Prior to this innovation livery was changed by baking carriages in an oven. This required all insides including electrical equipment to be stripped out and of course replaced after the event. A cost and time saving innovation indeed!
Investment in research, encouragement of employees to use some work time to experiment on new ideas, a commitment to apprenticeships are all hallmarks of a good company and are all to be found in the 3M repertoire.
A separate but equally important 3M visit was to Huddersfield University for the opening of a 3M/University research centre. Prince Andrew did the honours and the variety of projects already underway was heartening; 3D printers, specialist metal processes and skull caps to prevent hair loss when undergoing chemo-therapy. I found this visit in particular very exciting and very varied.
EA Technology, a management buyout of the old Electricity Board’s research wing, was a very different story to 3M. Their business was small and employee run but they are working with Nissan, the car manufacturer, to determine ways of providing electrical points for electric cars. How not to crash the grid when everyone comes home and plugs their cars in at the same time is a different question!
This was followed by an exciting visit with other members to McLaren Cars at Woking. With sleek Formula One vehicles lined up in the show case corridor, and the assembly area filled with road ready cars, it was more like a surgical theatre. All cars were absolutely spotless and pure white. Again, it is important to highlight their major concentration on research and innovation and training.
I then spent some time with Perkins Engines at Peterborough, who are manufacturer of very large equipment for railways and other things. What came across is that they are trying hard to engage and train more young people but frustrated at the attitude of local schools, who are not allowing them in to talk about apprenticeships and engineering opportunities.
I then visited McCain’s Foods, who are manufacturers of potato chips and wedges for the fast food industry as well as in supermarket sales. They have made a very big investment into research through their Scotland site. Very few people in view, skilled engineers and packers with not much by way of labour in between. Again, I must highlight their large commitment to training and apprenticeships.
My final visits were of a very different nature being to the British Fashion Council and to Marks and Spencer, a founding member of the IPT.
Fashion, as a contributor to the economy is very often under estimated and not taken seriously. Figures however for 2014 show the industry’s direct value to the UK economy at £26bn. When taking into account contributions to the supply chain and enhanced consumer spending the figure for the same year rises to £46bn.
Marks and Spencer was a very interesting visit. Behind the scenes at their flagship Marble Arch store showed all kinds of people checking and measuring testing materials. The head office at Paddington Basin contained very sophisticated IT equipment and systems designed to tell the company all about our shopping habits. Unfortunately, none of this seemed to want to face up to the fact that much of their merchandise does not find favour with the shopper. Their sustainability and CSR programmes were very impressive and clearly had been honed over the years.
I have found my period of study of the UK’s manufacturing base to be interesting, informative and rewarding. I would like to thank all at the IPT for the opportunity and would highly recommend their Fellowship programme.
With thanks to Baroness Prosser OBE, Vice Chair of the Industry and Parliament Trust.
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