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What will gear up U.K. manufacturing?

Marketplace Staff Mar 24, 2009

What will gear up U.K. manufacturing?

Marketplace Staff Mar 24, 2009


Renita Jablonski: The outlook for manufacturers in Britain is pretty grim right now, as it is in a lot of places. Economists expect the U.K. sector to shed more than 140,000 jobs this year. But in the country that kicked off the industrial revolution, the business of making things could have a future yet. From London, Christopher Werth filed this report.

Christopher Werth: Brompton Bicycle has been manufacturing folding bikes in its small factory in west London since the 1970’s.

Emerson Roberts: By manufacture I mean manufacture — you know, bits of metal come in, we bend them, we punch holes in them.

Emerson Roberts is Brompton’s Marketing Manager. He says the company has grown from just a handful of people when it started to employing almost 100 today. It takes in about $12 million annually. And Roberts is ambitious for the future.

Roberts: The plan this year is to grow sales by 25 percent.

Brompton is one of those rare success stories. When it opened its doors three decades ago, manufacturing accounted for 35 percent of Britain’s GDP. Today, it’s less than 15 percent. Britain has become a service economy with financial services at its core.

Steve Hughes is an Economic Advisor with the British Chambers of Commerce:

Steve Hughes: Narrow reliance on financial services has been a weakness of the U.K. economy. And if you want growth and stability in the long term, there needs to be some kind of rebalance and redress within it.

Many in Britain hope that such a rebalancing could mean a much bigger role for manufacturing. The fact that the pound has recently plunged steeply against foreign currencies is just what’s needed to give that trend a boost.

Hughes: What’s supposed to happen is that, as the price of our exported goods are cheaper to our trading partners, then sales obviously increase.

British producers also become more competitive at home, as imports become more expensive.

Of course, a weaker pound can’t guarantee success in the current economy. British manufacturing dropped more than 5 percent by the end of last year.

But back over at the bicycle factory, Brompton can already thank those lower exchange rates.

Roberts: In parts of Asia and in the U.S., our sales are very strong, and in the U.K. compared with last year they are very much higher.

Other manufacturers in Britain would also love to boost their sales. Bosses and labor unions have called recently for massive government investment in a sector they hope can pull Britain out of its current economic funk.

In London, this is Christopher Werth for Marketplace.

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