Plans have been announced to turn Lancaster University into a central component of the government’s attempt at a rejuvenation of the UK’s manufacturing sector. The idea has been spearheaded by University Operations Management lecturer Dr Marta Zorzini and local businessman David Bell. They hope to secure government backing that would allow Lancaster to become a ‘Knowledge Hub’ and thereby allow local firms to capitalise on the reshoring policy and the ‘Made in Britain’ status.
The number of available manufacturing jobs, as well as the industry as a whole, has declined since the mid-20th Century, when manufacturing made up almost half of the UK’s national output, to just under 13% in 2013. Part of the reason for this, as David recognised, is the overall swing in industry focus during the country’s recent history; “The UK has lumbered from being a manufacturing giant to become a typical developed nation whose economy is being driven, predominantly, by service-based industries”. Coupled with this is the fact that rapidly developing economies, primarily China and India, have become the global powerhouses of manufacturing. Not only do they hold a labour force that is both far larger than the UK’s and much cheaper to employ, but also far less environmental protection policies.
However, since coming to power in 2010, David Cameron has made it a main objective of his premiership to give British manufacturing a new lease of life in the economy, not least due to the vulnerability shown in the services sector by the recent financial crisis and recession. The government backed scheme Reshore UK aims to have firms bring their manufacturing operations back to the UK, and to make it easier for smaller, home-based businesses to have the opportunity to supply for UK based contracts, something Marta and David are hoping to capitalise on. Whilst many companies have shifted their manufacturing bases to the UK in recent years, particularly engineering and car making firms, the majority of these are overseas based multi-national corporations, something that the vast majority of local businesses cannot compete with. Hence, these smaller firms should be able to take advantage of the ‘Made in Britain’ label, and the opportunities being made available to them through the Reshoring policy, and in an area as hard-hit by the drop in manufacturing as the North-West, Lancaster could soon find itself as a hub of the UK’s manufacturing resurgence.