Last year, in January 2016, when we gathered for our annual dinner in Birmingham who would have thought, or even imagined, that our world was about to be turned upside down and look so different. We now face a range of risks from the global rise of protectionism.
We are faced with an emboldened Russia, an assertive China, an introverted America and an uncertain Europe. And here we are in the UK with an unexpected outcome. A new Prime Minister with a completely different focus who has a new team with different objectives – which gives us eye opening opportunities.
For the first time ever we have a Government Department with ‘Industrial Strategy’ in its name emphasising that there is a new direction to UK Government policy that seeks to empower our manufacturing sector.
The good news is that against this backdrop of massive challenges to our industry, we are flourishing. Towards the end of 2016 and since the beginning of 2017 our business levels have been strong, and, nearly a year ago we had our best Mach Show in recent times. I am especially proud of the success of Mach over the twelve years in which I have chaired this Association’s Exhibition Committee.
At the start of my Mach involvement there were those who believed that trade shows would be finished by the advent of the internet. But the reverse has been the case in which internet research makes a show visit more planned, more focussed and more productive for the customer. Mach celebrated its 100th anniversary during my tenure in an era where ‘old’ is not always perceived to be good. Fair point perhaps, but we have continually invested in new ideas, themes and initiatives to make Mach even more relevant today than before.
For my company, a visitor to last year’s show, JC Precision of Rutland, ordered one of our machines but the MD revealed that he became convinced of the concept two years earlier at the previous Mach, but for his company the investment was huge and needed to be carefully planned. He admits that had he not seen it at the show he probably would not have made the change to his business. Proof that seeing is believing even in today’s digital market.
The political events of the last year has brought the word ‘globalisation’ into daily use, not always positively; however, to the benefit of our sector, every day now we are talking about trade around the world in a way that we have not done for generations.
We at the MTA see it as our mission to make it as easy as possible to do business with everybody. For my company, I travel widely around the world and everywhere I find a positive reaction to ‘made in the UK’. For sure the UK’s sporting success of the last decade helps too. Brand UK’s time is now!
We, as key suppliers of manufacturing technology, must play our part and help awaken the urge to export. Of course this is not just for our sector’s companies but it is up to us to help our customers’ companies through encouragement and by providing the tools to help them export. My company is receiving clear messages from customers who are seeing significant increases in export enquiries particularly from the USA. Make no mistake the UK is now competitive.
We must lead with a spring in our step. Investment in new technology is more vital than ever because the rate of technological change is quickening. I realize that not everyone in this room exports but everyone’s customers can export; we need to persuade them that they can and must. This has to be part of our business strategy, thought of, and actioned every day.
We must encourage the culture of continuous investment because that is how you deliver world class productivity – not talk, do.
Of course we cannot do this alone, but actually our Government is listening to us; yes us the MTA. For example, the recent Budget announced funding aimed at strengthening collaborations between the academic and business worlds with 85% targeted in the STEM subjects of Science Technology Engineering & Maths. This is additional to the student funding of STEM degree courses that commence in August. These funding initiatives were lobbied by the MTA led by our then President, Mark Ridgway, at meetings with the Prime Minister, Chancellor and the No 10 policy unit in 2014. Six weeks ago our new Government published their green paper for consultation on the future UK Industrial Strategy. It has not been universally applauded but it is the first time we have had one in more than 50 years and we the MTA have the opportunity to help improve it. You can contribute too, either directly or through the association. I’m not saying it will be easy, your day-to-day workloads are full, your time is precious but this might be a once in a generation opportunity. The strategy emphasises the importance of export and that we must not stand still otherwise the world will leave us behind. It makes the point that there are clear signals that countries around the world want to do more business with us.
This association will be pushing for the best outcome not only in our nation’s future Industrial Strategy but also in the connected issue of our future new relationship with countries in Europe.
Your association is certainly not standing still. Firstly for 2018, our Mach show is undergoing its biggest transformation in 40 years. It is moving into one large space, one single level – making one great experience. This is to make it even easier and attractive to do business – not only for the UK visitor but for those from overseas – with more of them expected than ever before. Mach has a growing reputation across Europe as an easily accessible, comprehensive event.
Its size, its technology, its connectivity make Mach 2018 unmissable for the leaders of our industry.
Part of the MTA’s role is to help grow the leaders of tomorrow. This year we will launch increased funding by doubling our grants and loans to member companies to support growth in apprenticeships and that’s not all. If a company has someone aged 40 that they need to skill up – we will fund that.
These are some of the things that the MTA is doing to keep moving forward.
My question to each of you is ‘what will you be doing to push forward?’.
It’s up to you to lead.
Ask yourself ‘are you doing enough for your customers?’.
Can you change their potential? Their mentality?
Can you support them to export?
Can you help them improve their skills?
As suppliers of the best technology in the world it is our responsibility to do more.
We cannot stand still - let’s do this!