There have been reports from a number of sources that the UK manufacturing sector, far from being in terminal decline, is actually performing strongly. According to PWC, the focus has shifted from basic commodity manufacturing to high-end production, and the overall value of goods has increased. The number of people employed in manufacturing has fallen sharply, but this is dismissed as being unimportant; the overall value of goods produced has increased, which means greater value to be shared throughout the whole economy.
This cheerful scenario strikes me as being rather simplistic, for several reasons:
The mass production of low-end commodity products provides employment for semi- and unskilled workers, who may find it difficult to get jobs in the more specialised engineering and IT industries;
The PWC report concentrates entirely on the value of what is being produced and takes no account of what is being made or where it is being sold. ‘High-value’ production can include nuclear and aerospace components, together with the associated technical knowledge, all of which are very popular among despotic regimes around the world;
and the increase in unemployment brings associated social problems.
Some of the more depressing news items in the papers recently include the story of Abdul Esfandmozd, who spent ten years falsely claiming benefits which he spent on a property portfolio and lavish holidays. Despite having been filmed dancing at a holiday resort, he arrived at court in an electric wheelchair protesting his innocence.
Another grim episode took place in Eastbourne, where a man was beaten to death for refusing to buy alcohol for a group of teenagers.
Since the UK benefits system is so (apparently) generous, manufacturing employers have no qualms about transferring production overseas and leaving their workforce on the dole.
The ongoing success of UK manufacturing is a good thing, but it must be placed in context: our commitment to advanced technology leaves us dependent on other nations for basic commodity items, while the vast army of jobless adults in Britain will probably cause ever-increasing social disorder as the legal system struggles to cope with them.