Does Anyone Actually Know What We Still Manufacture in the UK?

Earlier this week, TATA steel announced that it would be ceasing production in the UK. What's left now? Anything? We asked some people on the street if they had any idea what stuff we make in this country.
March 31, 2016, 9:16am

A sugar factory near York that's since been demolished (Photo: Ken Crosby, via)

Earlier this week, Britain's largest steelmaker, TATA steel, announced that it would end production in the UK. The news is another giant blow to the UK manufacturing industry, which has been declining rapidly since the 1970s. Gone are the days of coal mines, chimneys and cotton mills; countries like China, India and Taiwan took the manufacturing crown years ago through low costs and cheap labour.

But it's not all doom and gloom: manufacturing still accounts for about 10 percent of the output of the UK economy. There are over 100,00 people employed in the British aerospace industry, for example, and we still make 5 million tons of plastic a year, while our textile industry is the third largest fashion employer in the EU, just behind Italy and Germany.


The figures might show that the UK still has some form of manufacturing industry, but does anyone actually know that? We went took to the streets to ask some strangers if they have any idea that we still make things in this country.

VICE: Do you know what we manufacture in the UK?
Ben, 23, insurance broker:Not as much as we used to. We do a lot more high tech stuff now.

High tech unfortunately doesn't come under manufacturing – do you know any other industrial industries we have in the UK?
Building cars. But we don't tend to do that any more.

[Five million cars and 2.4 million engines were built in 2014, accounting for 11 percent of the UK's total export goods.]

Do you think there should be more investment in the UK's manufacturing industries?
The problem is wages are too high here; it's cheaper to make things in other countries. I think, unfortunately, there will always be more made abroad because it's too expensive to produce in this country.

When you were growing up did you ever think about having a career in the manufacturing industry?
Not really. I grew up in the south of England, where there is traditionally less manufacturing than in the north. Down here there was never that community of children going off to do what their fathers did.

Do you know what's manufactured in the UK?
Benaiah, 31, designer: Yes, because I get stuff made here myself. I've got my own clothing brand and I have a lot of pieces made in the Midlands and in Huddersfield, where I'm from.

Why did you want to make stuff in the UK? It must be pretty expensive.
Huddersfield is known for its suiting fabric, so massive brands like Dior get their suiting fabrics made in Huddersfield. Knowing that gave me good reason to keep production here. Also, keeping money within this economy is important to me.


Have you found it a struggle to keep manufacturing here?
Yes, because it's so expensive – it's ridiculous. Also, the level of quality as a whole is better in places like China. A lot of clothing manufactures over here don't have some of the technical abilities for specific things I want designed.

Do you think people are aware that the textile industry contributes greatly to our economy?
No, not at all. I think people think it's something that we used to do, as opposed to what we still do. And how do you get people to still use things here when it's so expensive!

Do you know what we manufacture in the UK?
Mhairi, 19, shop assistant: No. I thought everything people bought here was either from China or America.

Can you remember the last thing you bought that was made in the UK?
No, but come to think of it, I know a lot of jumpers are made in the UK.

Yeah, the textile industry is booming. Anything other than jumpers?
A lot of food is made here, isn't it?

Yes it is, along with cars and plastic. Did you ever have ambition to work in the manufacturing industry?
I've always wanted to make clothes, but that's about it.

What products do we make in the UK?
Margo, 30, producer: Clothes, shoes, furniture… oh, and food!

Do you think it's important that we have a manufacturing industry here in the UK?
Yeah, for sure. It's the same for every other country – the problem is that everything becomes centralised and one company begins to run the whole industry. I think it's important to use whatever techniques and skills a country has to create a sense of pride.


Did you ever have dreams of getting a job within the manufacturing industry?
Not really. Some of my family are food producers, so that's always been the path a lot of them have taken, but I've always been into art.

Do you think more should be done in this country to promote manufacturing?
I think more education would go a long with manufacturing. A lot of people are put off by high prices of British goods, but people need to be informed as to why the prices are so high and why it's important that they are made.

Can you remember the last UK-made product you bought?
Probably my shoes – they're Clarks.

The last Clarks UK factory ceased production in 2005. Production was relocated off-shore, using third party factories, predominantly located in Asia.

Do you know what we manufacture in the UK?
Sonia, 24, graphic designer: I have no idea.

We make a lot of aeroplane parts and pharmaceutical products – perhaps you've bought clothing from a British textile industry?
Yeah, I always shop at Topshop.

Actually, the vast majority of Topshop clothes are made abroad.
Are you serious? I didn't know that.

Do you think people should be more informed about British manufacturing?
Yeah, definitely – I mean, you've just taught me a lot about Topshop.

Has learning that a high street brand like Topshop make a lot of their clothes abroad made you think differently about shopping there?
No, everything is the same to me. I wouldn't be more likely to buy something because it was made here, and I think that things made in Britain have their price boosted up.

Do you know what products we manufacture in the UK?
Iestyn, 50, performer: Books? Do we still export cotton?

Well, a German-backed company has plans to build a new cotton-spinning line in Manchester, but that's about it. Did you ever want to get into the manufacturing industry before you have the career you do now?
Well, my uncle, who worked for BOAC as a mechanic, fascinated me. He made one specific part; the same part all of his working life – isn't that crazy? But I knew I was always going to have a career on the stage.


Do you think more should be done to promote manufacturing in this country?
I have to say no, because I think art is the signature of the civilisation and we should value art first. I think manufacturing is valued quite enough, although look at me – ignorant.

Do you think it's important to buy British produce?
Actually, yes – look after your own first. I think you should support what's around you.

What was the last thing you bought that you know what made in the UK?
A pint of Fuller's.

Thanks, Iestyn.

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