Comment: Manufacturing can make us ‘Great’ again outside the union

Following the results of the EU referendum, University of Sheffield Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Keith Burnett stresses the importance of investing in our manufacturing roots.

Manufacturing can make us ‘Great’ again outside the union

by Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, 7 July 2016, published in Yorkshire Post

Why does Germany rule the eurozone? Manufacturing.

Why does China almost rule the world? Manufacturing.

Why was Britain great? Manufacturing.

You may have heard tales of Nelson at Trafalgar or the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo. But the fact that Napoleon had to buy his cloth from Yorkshire and Lancashire is why we ruled the waves.

We should not buy our high speed rail system from abroad. We should build nuclear power plants and the aircraft that our RAF needs and the ships for our navy.

Professor Sir Keith Burnett

Both sides of the American Civil War bought steel from Sheffield. We built the railways which connected India. Our navy made up of ships built on the Clyde was there to support our trade.

The money we earned at these times filled the coffers of the Bank of England. Borrowing money from other nations does not make you powerful. We have to make things and sell them to others. Nothing else will give us a stable future for our children.

The pound may fall. Property bubbles may burst. But only making things will keep us safe.

We are blessed with a core of capability in manufacturing across the United Kingdom. This is a capability which has been restrained by lack of capital, the lack of willingness of a government to intervene and yes, lack of courage and belief.

This must now be swept aside. We must take the capability, the flotilla of boats of companies and universities, to forge a new industrial future.

We should not buy our high speed rail system from abroad. We should build nuclear power plants and the aircraft that our RAF needs and the ships for our navy.

Does this sound implausible to you? A lost dream? It is not.

But what has been stopping us? Action and purpose are key. We need skills. We need the very best people. We need more productivity and a renewed work ethic.

And – let’s be honest about this – it is also true that EU competition policy has stopped us investing in our own industry.

If we are to take all the disadvantages of going it alone, we must also seize the opportunities.

The Bank of England had £250bn put aside to support the pound. Steve Crabb says you need £100bn to support industry. Sajid Javid has seen this at close quarters with steel.

So now let’s act and encourage our politicians to be bold. The message needs to go loud and clear to Oliver Letwin in the Brexit Unit and to whoever becomes our new Prime Minister.

We need our own plan. We won’t be saved by reticence and hands-off reliance on the free market. We must reboot what we have put in peril. At times of national threat – and this is surely one – we have to take action and defend our country.

In the North, we are working with colleagues in universities and industry on a plan which will benefit the whole of the UK.

If you believe in this future, then join us. We need it now as never before. If Britain is separated from the European Union, it cannot ignore the only way to be Great.