British Manufacturing

British Manufacturing

Friday, June 25, 2021

A manuscript getting close to submission

 It is a strange time when a manuscript is nearly ready. Relief that the huge amount of work is nearly done, but sadness that an engrossing journey of discovery is nearly over. 

It all began with an itch. My research into my books on how the army have been supplied in two world wars had raised in my mind many questions. Many British companies had served their country well beyond the call of duty. Who were they? Where did they come from? What happened to them?

I began by approaching the first two questions, but my quest widened into the story of British manufacturing. It then sharpened into what then seemed an almost crazy assertion How Britain Created the Manufacturing World. 

My research sought to test the assertion and the results are in the manuscript which will make its way to my publisher at Pen & Sword. 

In this blog I plan to post some interesting findings. 


This generator is in a lighthouse on Scilly 


Employment in the 21st century

It is a subject that politicians won't talk about, except for one party promising new jobs and another to trumpeting record employment. Reports talk about robots taking over, but what is the truth; what is the evidence? What of the creative industries? More to the point, what is to be done?


One hundred people from across all stages of education, local government and industry came to Lincoln Drill Hall to hear presentations by people (see below) immersed in the debate. I offer here my reflections on a very thought provoking day.

I begin with my prejudice, which is a fear that AI (artificial intelligence) will cost jobs. This was dismissed as the Luddite Fallacy, harking back to the fear of early 19th century millworkers to the coming of machinery.  I also began with a strong feeling that 'middle order' jobs have already been lost and replaced with poorly paid unskilled work with variable hours. I am reminded of the brilliant TV drama Years and Years. I am also still worried.

The first speaker offered much needed evidence by showing just which jobs are vulnerable to AI, and they are largely those middle order clerical jobs. (This struck a chord with me in relation to my own writing where I uncovered photographs of massive offices for clerical work in support of army supply in WW2.) 
There could be a lot of clerical jobs at risk, perhaps 30% of all current jobs could to be lost. On the positive side new jobs will be created, many as Robot minders, which surely begs another TV drama. Those undertaking the new jobs will need to be trained and certainly those set to lose jobs might see it as a challenge beyond them.  This is Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution this time with the focus on interconnectivity. A key issue to emerge from this process of job loss and job creation is the time lag between the two.

For me a fascinating insight came at the coffee break where I spoke to my old neighbour who works in a senior role in the care sector. We had both seen that care work was among the least likely to be replaced by AI. It is work that needs human empathy, however it is seriously undervalued. Later a questioner suggested that people without high aspirations could become 'hair dressers or care workers'. Without being dismissive of hair dressers, care work surely needs to be recognised as a profession and paid accordingly. It would be good if this debate could shed light on this.

What other jobs are 'safe'? Not artists, it would seem. AI can make perfect copies of great masters. I digress into some other of my own work pointing to JohnRuskin, (whose voice needs to be heard more generally in this debate - he was fearful of the impact of industrialisation on the wellbeing of workers), but who in this context, could, at the age of 21, copy the style of all the significant painters of his day but who only discovered 'true art' when he began to paint from nature. This gives a focus on what AI cannot do: General Intelligence, Value Judgements to name but two.

It isn't just AI and Robots, digital technology generally, not least digital printing, is making a big impact in improving the service offered to customers by Lincoln's biggest manufacturing employer, Siemens. This company has also seen huge benefit from empowering groups of employees and truly seeking their ideas: digital crowd sourcing. Nevertheless another key issue is the inevitable internal opposition to change.

All generations are different and of course none are understood by their parents. Generation Z, those aged between 8 and 23, are very different: they have no emery before 9/11; they have only lived in financially challenging times; they have only ever lived with digital technology; they are better informed, have strong opinions and feel empowered; they value tolerance and equality and reject being labelled. How will they fit in the changing work place? At Siemens they would be welcomed, but is it true of all employers? The voices we heard, can be heard in the form of a drama piece, Youthquake at Lincoln Drill Hall on October and on tour.

In looking at the economic changes that have taken place in the lifetime of Generation Z, significant are the decoupling of wages and productivity, the polarisation of the labour market with few highly paid, many low paid and a reducing number of medium paid jobs. 

So, what is to be done, particularly in the context of Lincolnshire where geographical areas and differing groups of people have been untouched by general economic growth? Are there specific actions that can improve their lot? Incidentally there seems to be a correlation between these forgotten areas and those where people voted 'Leave' in 2016. A possible answer emerged in the thinking behind Inclusive Economics.

I look forward to follow up work from this day, for in truth this was but a start. We didn't begin to talk about job satisfaction, Universal Basic Income or the financial viability of careers in the arts.

Those speaking, introduced by University of Lincoln Vice-Chancellor, Mary Stuart, were Marc Hanheide, Professor of Intelligent Robotics & Interactive Systems University of Lincoln; Yuval Fertig, Economist at PwC; Neil Corner, Managing Director Siemens Lincoln; Toby Ealden, Artistic Director Zest Theatre; Dr Neil Lee, Associate Professor of Economic Geography, LSE. The event concluded with a panel of students questioned by Professor Libby John, Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Lincoln and a reflection session with Liz Shutt, Director of Policy, University of Lincoln/Greater Lincolnshire LEP

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A decline in manufacturing?

 The table below was taken from data provided by the Office for National Statistics and shows the number of jobs split between Manufacturing (including Construction) [Orange line] and Services [Blue line] between 1978 and 2019 taking each quarterly return.

Service sector jobs increased by 11 million and manufacturing reduced by 4.5 million.

Looking at services, the biggest increases were Health and social care 2.3 million, IT and Management Services 1.3 million and Accommodation, food and beverage 1.2 million and education 1 million.

In his book, Social History of Britain - British Society 1914-45, John Stevenson offers some broadly comparative statistics.

In 1914, textiles, coal, iron and steel, and shipbuilding employed almost a quarter of the total workforce. The comparative percentages for 1978 and 2019 are 14% and 2% respectively. The 'new' industries of motor vehicles, plastics and electrics rebuilt manufacturing jobs between the wars and, in the fifties and sixties, making up 11% of total jobs in 1978. They make up 3% in 2019.

If we go back further, David Cannadine in his book, Victorious Century, offers again broadly comparable figures. Agriculture came first with just under 2 million, followed by 1million in domestic service. Next came cotton textile workers at half a million; whilst this number was equally split between men and women, men predominated in agriculture and women in domestic service. Next in number came building craftsmen, labourers and then a third of a million milliners, dressmakers and seamstresses, and 300,000 wool workers. There were 200,000 coalminers. Instead of listing the remainder, Cannadine observes that there were more blacksmiths than iron workers and more working with horses on roads than with steam on railways. The total employed workforce in 1851 was 8.5 million (out of a total population of 27 million) compared to 31 million in 2019.

I look forward to getting access to hard copy of the Censuses to assess more clearly how employment patterns have changed.

The crash of the 1930s was in the context of an economy more reliant on manufacturing. Would a crash from Covid19 have the same impact given the massive swing towards services?

At the beginning of the covid pandemic the UK economy depended on our passion for spending, buying things and experiences. Could this change, and, if it does, what would be the impact?


How Britain Created the Manufacturing World

I'm thrilled that Pen & Sword have confirmed their intention to publish my current work in progress, How Britain Created the Manufacturing World.

The peoples of the British Isles gave to the world the foundations on which modern manufacturing economies are built. This is quite an assertion, but history shows that, in the late eighteenth century, a remarkable combination of factors and circumstances combined to give birth to Britain as the first manufacturing nation. Further factors allowed it to remain top manufacturing dog well into the twentieth century, although other countries were busy playing catch up. Through two world wars and the surrounding years, British manufacturing remained strong, albeit whilst ceding the lead to the United States.

This book seeks to tell the remarkable story of British manufacturing, using the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a prism. Prince Albert and Sir Henry Cole had conceived an idea of bringing together exhibits from manufacturers across the world to show to its many millions of visitors the pre-eminence of the British. 1851 was not the start, but rather a pause for a bask in glory. 

I trace back from the exhibits in Hyde Park’s crystal palace to identify the factors that gave rise to this pre-eminence. I then follow developments up until the Festival of Britain exactly one century later. Steam power and communication by electric telegraph, both British inventions, predated the Exhibition. After it, came the sewing machine and bicycle, motor car and aeroplane, but also electrical power, radio and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries where Britain played a leading part. I conclude with the Festival of Britain in 1951 as an exhausted nation looked forward with hope  


The Festival of Britain

 ‘THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A NATION is presented for the first time in this Festival of Britain and millions of the British people will be the authors of it, displaying through every means by which Man expresses his nature how we have honoured our stewardship and used our talents. Conceived among the untidied ruins of war and fashioned through days of harsh economy, this Festival is a challenge to the sloughs of the present and a shaft of confidence cast forth against the future.’

So began the introduction to the Festival brochure.

The first record of the idea of a Festival of Britain is to be found in 1943, at the point of the Second World War when victory, although challenging, at last seemed possible. The Festival was to mark the centenary of the Great Exhibition, and many had in mind a similar exhibition of the nation’s products. This made sense, for a good number of such exhibitions had followed that of 1851 and business liked them. 

The Festival, as its plans emerged under the directorship of journalist, Sir Gerald Barry, and chairmanship of Churchill’s right hand man, Lord Ismay, looked rather different. I quote from the first of three talks Sir Gerald gave to the Royal Society of Arts in 1952:

‘We were going to tell a story not industry by industry, still less firm by firm, but the consecutive story of the British people in the land they live in and by… each type of manufacture and each individual exhibit would occur in the setting appropriate to that part of the story in which it naturally fell e.g. steel knives and sinks in the home part of the story, steel machines in the industry part of the story, steel chassis in transport, and so on…each industrial exhibit will be chosen by the exhibition organisers themselves in consultation with manufacturers and trade associations.’ 

A stock list was compiled of some 20,000 items from 5,000 manufacturers, only half of which could be exhibited in the space available. Design was key, and was overseen by the still relatively new Council of Industrial Design (now the Design Council). “The exhibits ranged from locomotives to lipsticks and in value many thousands of pounds to a few pennies.”

I have traced the exhibits that I have so far found to the origins of the relevant manufacturer, in some cases back to the catalogue of the Great Exhibition of 1851. 

My great grandfather exhibited in 1851 and I begin my forthcoming book, How Britain Created the Manufacturing World, with a survey of the 1851 exhibition catalogue. 


The festival was celebrated in towns and villages across the land




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