Margaret Thatcher began the demolition of manufacturing industry in Britain in the 70’s and since then successive governments have done nothing to halt that decline. Divisive politics or damned stupidity? It’s probably a mixture of the two.
We were all led to believe that growth in post-industrial Britain would be driven by information technology, financial services and a high-value service sector. Manufacturing was deemed not to be important, and if it wasn’t ignored, it was certainly not given any worthwhile encouragement, and allowed to wither.
What politicians failed to realise was that without a vibrant manufacturing sector, huge swathes of people would be denied the opportunity of gainful long-term employment and that the divide between rich and poor would become greater – as it has in Britain. The consequence of this ill-informed and short-sighted policy is that Britain has become a deeply divided nation.
Not only has there been a social cost for this misguided policy, the actual cost of Britain’s unequal society is huge. Inequality is very, very expensive.
Will Britain’s manufacturing sector rise again? There’s a glimmer of hope. As usual lots of words, but no action: nobody appears to know what to do.
If something does eventually happen and the Government comes to its senses, there’ll have to have a completely new attitude towards manufacturing. Yes, it has to be about productivity and competitiveness, but it must also be about employment too. The social benefits of a vibrant manufacturing sector are significant: an essential component of a successful economy. Germany is a perfect example.
And the cost of promoting and positively advantaging manufacturing? It would be a fraction of what is currently spent maintaining our broken, unequal society. The advantages in terms of employment, growth and social cohesiveness would be enormous.