Given the rapidly evolving national and global supply chains it is essential that the UK government invests in the building and development of an infrastructure that is fit for the future in order to support manufacturing and general economic growth. World class infrastructure allows businesses to be run from anywhere in the country, linked physically within the UK and to our ports and airports by road and rail and linked digitally within the UK and the world via superfast broadband.
Encouragingly infrastructure is one of the key foundations outlined in the Government’s new Industrial Strategy. However, historically the pace of change has been very slow and UK infrastructure appears to be falling behind other leading economies and the demands of the market.
At BDO we believe that to create a truly sustainable and balanced ‘new economy’ policymakers must focus on fuelling the growth of the geographic and sector powerhouses of the North, the Midlands and surrounding regions – and our New Economy report suggests policies with a particular focus on helping the manufacturing sector grow.
At the centre of our policies for the building of a new economy is investment in smart infrastructure to create the right environment for businesses and local communities to flourish.
Better roads and rail links will give the best return if they connect the regions and the regional powerhouses – helping areas on the cusp of sustainable economic success to cement their position and help their businesses to thrive. In uncertain financial times, Government needs to get the best possible value out of any investment, and some plans will deliver far more value than others.
Governments will inevitably be drawn to larger “legacy type” projects like HS2 but these may not always provide the best value – particular for the regions. We believe that the Government should also focus on smaller ‘shovel-ready’ projects that can get off the ground quicker and have a more immediate economic impact. Working on smaller and more targeted infrastructure projects would ensure a greater short-term benefit.
It is critical that local government and businesses are included in a collaborative discussion about what infrastructure would benefit each location to help ensure that smaller, regionally focused infrastructure projects make a real difference to local citizens.
Finally, social infrastructure should not be overlooked – particularly schools and education. If schools are equipped with the right resources, they can deliver a labour force with the right skills and knowledge to drive local job and economic growth. This will not only assist with the on-going skills crisis in the sector but will also ensure talent is evenly spread across the UK.
Digitisation, automation, new materials and new processes are changing the world of manufacturing. These are areas where UK manufacturers have excelled for many years and given the right support and the right investment in infrastructure manufacturing will continue to be the leading sector in the UK economy. But the government needs to act quickly.
Tom Lawton is Partner and National Head of Manufacturing at BDO.