Today the search begins for companies to take part in the new Ernst & Young Manufacturers League. Andrew Hebden explains why businesses in the most vibrant sector of the region's economy should get involved.
THERE was a time when manufacturing had fallen out of fashion. The future of the British economy, it was widely thought, lay not in the workshops, factories and shipyards of industrial areas such as the North East but the shiny glass towers of Canary Wharf and the sharp-suited businessman who occupied them.
If that characterised the mood of ten years ago, when the original Ernst & Young Manufacturers League was finally wound up, then it’s somehow appropriate that we should be re-launching the competition at a time when the financial services sector is perhaps at its lowest ebb.
The banking scandal which yesterday cost Barclays boss Bob Diamond his job has come to characterise – probably unfairly – a whole sector of our economy that was once lauded but is now public enemy number one.
And so – as everyone agrees that we need to “rebalance the economy” – the role of manufacturers comes to the fore once more. Our workshops are back working, exports are rising and even apprenticeships are back in fashion. How times have changed.
The Manufacturers’ League is designed as a celebration of all that is great about manufacturing here in the North East. It will see businesses from across the region compete to be included in our quarterly league table of the best performing firms according to a range of criteria such as sales, staff numbers, exports and apprenticeship places. The best of the best will then be honoured at an annual awards ceremony.
Peter Bernard, managing director of Gateshead-based Responsive Engineering group, was a keen supporter of the original Manufacturers’ League. At the time he was head of Streamline Waterjet Cutting – now part of the Responsive group – which was a former winner of the competition and regularly featured towards the top of the league.
Recalling the impact of the original League which ran for eight years until 2002, he said: “It provided motivation, recognition for the guys in the business, and a bit of good publicity for the region.”
He described the League as “a very good thing for manufacturing in the North East”.
“There is nothing wrong with competition – it is a healthy thing,” he said. “It is also good to be able to see which other companies are doing well.”
Bernard said that, whilst the manufacturing sector was generally performing well in the region, there were increasingly issues in the supply chain with attracting skilled staff. He said that, by highlighting the growth of firms in the sector, the Manufacturers’ League could help to attract people into the industry.
“There is too much bad news around at the moment, so it is good to highlight the positives. Engineering is part of this region’s heritage and there are a lot of great engineering companies still around today so it is right that we should promote and celebrate them.”
Another backer of the competition, Express Group chairman Chris Thompson, agreed.
“We need to attract people to manufacturing because there is potentially a lack of young people choosing manufacturing as a career and it is important that we promote the benefits,” he said.
“This is a great way of identifying which companies are leading in the sector both regionally and nationally.”
Geoff Ford, chairman of Ford Component Manufacturing and Ford Aerospace, both based in South Tyneside, and chairman and founder of the South Tyneside Manufacturing Forum, was another participant in the original league and also welcomed its return.
“I believe manufacturing, which is fundamental to the North East, can lead the UK out of recession, and, as such, it needs to enjoy the maximum profile possible,” he said. “The return of The Manufacturers’ League is therefore most welcome.
“Mark Hatton and his colleagues at Ernst & Young are to be congratulated on their initiative.”
Andy Tuscher, regional director for the manufacturers employers’ organisation EEF, called on its members to get involved in the project.
“This is a really great opportunity to showcase the best of manufacturing in the North East and to show the rest of the economy just how strong our manufacturing base is,” he said.
“The North East is still the only region in the UK with a positive balance of trade and whilst that is in a large part due to the success of Nissan, we have a strong presence in the wider automotive supply chain, as well as in oil and gas, defence, aerospace and increasingly in renewable energy.
“This region is therefore in a really strong position in many of the key growth areas and the Manufacturers’ League is a chance to tell the world about what is going on here. Unfortunately a lot of manufacturers traditionally like to keep a low profile, but it would be great to hear from them now and to highlight their successes through the league.”
Simon Whiteside, director at Ernst & Young in Newcastle said that, after a ten-year break, it was the right time to be bringing the Manufacturers’ League back.
“It‘s a prime time for manufacturers to be celebrated in the North East for the contribution they make to the economy,” he said.
“The Ernst & Young Manufacturers’ League is a tangible measure of the wealth, jobs, exports and apprentices they create, whilst promoting networking and the sharing of best practice.
“It will help us to gauge how the sector has performed through turbulent times, in comparison to other sectors, and how fit it is for the future.
“The league will share the region’s leading exporters, sparking discussion on their strategies for entering international markets and their views on the next hot places to invest. It will act as a rallying call to young people, highlighting the attractions of joining the manufacturing sector and the opportunities available.
“Overall, the league aims to support a sector that perhaps has been overlooked, recognising the achievements of manufacturers and the part they are playing in the economic recovery.”
:: Turn to page 2 to find out how the league will work and details on how to register >>