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Why UK SME Manufacturing Firms Aren't Given The Credit They Deserve

Why UK SME Manufacturing Firms Aren't Given The Credit They Deserve
22/04/2022

The UK has been a manufacturing powerhouse for nearly 200 years: the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and a key player in defining some of the world’s most recognisable technologies. Most people, when prompted, could name several world-famous large UK manufacturers who have built their reputation on quality and service: Rolls Royce, BAE Systems, Jaguar Land Rover, and Bristan, to name a few.

What is less well-known is the important role that small and middle-sized enterprises (SMEs) play in the country’s manufacturing industry. Often overlooked by political decision makers compared to the larger corporate entities, SMEs make significant contributions, not only to industry itself, but to their local communities in many ways, including employment, education, and investment in infrastructure.

UK Manufacturing SMEs: The Facts How influential are the UK’s manufacturing SMEs in 2022?

In 2021, there were approximately 270,000 businesses in the UK’s manufacturing sector. Of these, less than 2 per cent were larger entities employing more than 500 people. The UK is the ninth largest manufacturing country in the world, exporting £275bn of goods in 2019. Manufacturing contributes one-quarter of the nation’s GDP each year. The growth of manufacturing SMEs is continuing, with a 6 per cent increase since 2010. The societal and economic value of SME manufacturing businesses, therefore, is indisputable. SMEs also contribute significantly to local economies by providing secure, well-paid jobs; injecting much-needed investment into community projects, particularly those which previously would have qualified for European Union support; and strengthening the fortunes of other SMEs who work collaboratively in a manufacturing ecosystem.

SMEs: The Invisible Manufacturing Experts It’s fair to say that the culture in which SMEs operate makes it challenging for their voice to be heard. Emerging from humble roots, often built up by families over generations, owners of manufacturing SMEs often shy away from shouting out about their achievements: achievements which often go unnoticed by the general public and politicians alike. During the Covid-19 lockdowns, many SMEs pressed on, continuing to produce and distribute the vital supplies upon which the country relied, while more visible public bodies, like the NHS, (rightly) received public commendation.

Equally, a lack of Government support has resulted in a lack of awareness among the British public of the important work of manufacturing SMEs. In contrast, German engineers are as highly regarded as doctors, a situation that should be reflected in the UK. Many young people are unaware of the positive aspects of a career in manufacturing, including high pay and job security, instead perceiving engineering to be dreary and unpleasant.

Engineering Change Manufacturing SMEs perform incredibly, given the lack of support and structure that larger companies enjoy from the Government. With the right backing, our SMEs could easily manufacture everything that we need in the UK, increasing the sector’s contribution to GDP, reducing unemployment, and slashing carbon emissions ahead of the Government’s Net Zero 2050 target.

But change won’t happen unless there is more credit for the work SMEs do, a more prominent voice in the industry, and better representation of their interests at the highest level through the appointment of a Minister for Manufacturing.

Watch out for a Gov.UK petition calling for just that – hopefully launching on Thursday the 28th April.

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