by Dick Elsy, CBE (Chief Executive, HVM Catapult)

What a year 2020 has been.

Now, as we work to manage our emergence from the in-the-moment quest for survival that characterised the height of the pandemic, our politicians must turn their minds to the longer-term view and, crucially, how to rebuild the British economy. The challenge is significant.  Not only must Government find ways to refill the COVID-created hole in the nation’s finances, it must also deliver on its ambition to ‘build back better’, spreading prosperity through every community while tackling climate change and driving the nation towards the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

UK industry is central to meeting that challenge.

CPI workers inspecting their equipment

COVID shone a bright light on the importance of industry to our national health – the UK needs the industrial capability to respond in moments of crisis.  Now British industry has the potential to become part of an economic renaissance that will create jobs, restore the prosperity of struggling communities, cut carbon emissions and heal the wounds inflicted by the pandemic. The way so many of our manufacturers stepped up to deliver during the early weeks of the virus should give us hope.  They demonstrated energy, innovation and agility in switching their focus to the tools needed to combat the pandemic – hand sanitisers, PPE and, of course, ventilators where the Ventilator Challenge UK Consortium delivered over 20 years’ worth of ventilators in just 14 weeks.

No-one should doubt that the firms who achieved that can be a part of the UK’s long-term economic solution, but this cannot be a pastime just for the few. UK businesses large and small need to take up the challenge of making their operations more sustainable, putting in place more robust supply chains that will survive in the advent of economic shocks and get to grips with long-standing national challenges such as boosting productivity and ensuring competitiveness in a global marketplace.   That demands an industrial transformation on a scale unseen for many years.

AMRC engineer at work

I believe that Britain is on the cusp of that transformation.  Well-led businesses see the value of doing things differently both to boost their resilience and to grow their bottom line and Government sees the value of supporting them, recognising the economic benefits that will follow.   My organisation, the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, stands ready to guide and support their journey working with key partners to help firms harness the best research and business practice to transform the products they sell, the way they make them and the skills of their workforce to become stronger and fitter for the future.  The challenges may seem daunting, but we are confident we can help firms meet them.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll produce a series of short articles here on the key challenges of a changing business environment: improving productivity, reducing carbon emissions, developing more resilient supply chains, and creating more agile manufacturing techniques.