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Is the UK’s manufacturing sector in the middle of a ‘march of the makers?’

By Jillian MacBryde - Posted on 14 February 2014

Three years on from Chancellor George Osborne’s ‘march of the makers’ budget Dr Jillian MacBryde, Vice Dean of Knowledge Exchange, looks at the recent fortunes of UK manufacturers…

Back in 2011, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer used his budget to announce a raft of measures to support manufacturing, including the extension of export credit scheme and improved tax credits for research and development to, in his words, start a ‘march of the makers’.

Three years on, and the continued focus on trying to turn around the county’s finances seems to finally be taking hold. GDP figures for 2013 show UK output was at its highest since 2007, while there has also been good news on the high street and in the housing market.

However, while improving consumer confidence is good news it cannot sustain an economic recovery on its own. What's needed is a real-term growth in output.

So how has the UK’s manufacturing sector fared?

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), production output rose by 0.5% between Q3 and Q4 2013, with the largest contribution coming from manufacturing, which increased by 0.7%.

Meanwhile the value of sales of manufactured goods rose £4.2bn to more than £342bn in 2013 - £10.5bn more than in 2008 at the height of the recession.

A key factor in this return to growth has been an improving export picture, driven by the historically low value of the pound. However, despite a growth in key exports such as chemicals, food and drink and vehicles, the trade deficit for goods was still £7.7bn in the last month of 2013.

But perhaps the most promising news has been the 9.3% growth in exports to countries outside the EU during the last six months of 2013, which suggests the UK manufacturers may have finally woken up to export opportunities in emerging economies.

What the UK’s SME manufacturers need now is the right support and advice to really take advantage of the ‘Made in Britain’ brand premium, and historically low interest rates, to emulate the success of the country’s big drinks brands and luxury car companies have already had in these new markets.

Do you think exports hold the key to economic growth in the UK? What more can be done to support our producers in exploring new markets? Let us know in the comments below…

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