Sheffield sits as engine for UK’s manufacturing rebirth

Sheffield Forgemasters chairman Tony Pedder said the spirit of positive legacy from previous generations has helped position Hallamshire as the engine for the UK’s manufacturing rebirth.

Mr Pedder was talking at the 377th Cutlers’ Feast on Thursday (16 May) with special guest Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe QPM, Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis.

He claims Hallamshire, which historically encompasses the current city region, outshines the rest of the UK as a centre for manufacturing excellence because of its unique heritage, expertise and world class facilities.

Current Cutlers’ Company senior warden Mr Pedder said: “Because of our legacy, we manufacturers in Hallamshire don’t see today’s economic travails as a burning platform. We see them as a trigger to harness a burning desire.

“A desire, given the right climate, for Hallamshire to be the engine for the UK’s manufacturing rebirth, and to thereby continue to honour our legacy and pass it on to future generations.

“We can build on our two great universities, who are increasingly reaching out to support business, and we can build on our outstanding companies, who are poised to grow further, particularly in global markets.”

“This remains a difficult time for our economy. The issues are complex and extend beyond our borders. However, we have to drive solutions to move us forward quickly now.To move forward, from the effective five plus years of stagnation we seem almost becalmed in and to avoid our legacy for the next generation being one of massive debts and worklessness.

“I believe that reversing the steady trend of decline, over many years, in manufacturing’s share of our GDP is one of the solutions needed. And with a clear, focussed, consistent political commitment to create the right environment nationally, manufacturing can meet that challenge, and nowhere more so than here in Hallamshire.”

Mr Pedder said the Cutlers Company’s beliefs and principals of getting people in Hallamshire working together, promoting quality, skills and hard work, and creating an industry to compete with the best, were still very relevant to today’s business world.

“They earned a place in the world’s consciousness for Sheffield as much more than just a city. They turned us into a brand – a brand synonymous with quality in manufacturing. Some 400 years on, I believe that legacy of a city region linked to quality remains very true and very relevant.”

Mr Pedder added: “Over so many years there has been, under Governments of different colours, a real failure to embed a consistent policy for manufacturing. And as a consequence, manufacturing’s share of GDP has for many years declined steadily.

“When I entered manufacturing in the early ‘70s, its share of UK GDP was around 30%. When I ran British Steel’s stainless business in the mid ‘80s that share had declined to around 25%. By the start of this millennium it stood at around 15%. And today it is around 11%.

“But this government is doing some things to help. There has been some positive movement on capital allowances and on the R & D tax credit. The last budget in March and last week’s Queen’s Speech both had business-supportive elements to them, indicating some further welcome changes for manufacturers.

“But, with our economy still in some difficulty, we need to see more, much more. And with much more urgency. Growth and unlocking more new business investment are now major priorities in terms of turning potential into actual recovery.”

Mr Pedder said deep rooted cross party support was critical for stability, robustness and progress to happen and to give confidence to companies who often make investment decisions which mature over timescales longer than Government lifespans. He also called for the Government to create an internationally competitive environment for manufacturing through an Office for Manufacturing Competitiveness.

Mr Pedder and Forgemasters’ chief executive Professor Graham Honeyman have been key in tabling manufacturing issues with MPs and key civil servants and garnering high levels of respect within industry.