Industrial manufacturing roots resurface in Britain

By Zaki Cooper, October 17, 2013
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Britain’s manufacturing market could take a turn back to its strong industrial roots, says Cooper

Britain’s manufacturing market could take a turn back to its strong industrial roots, says Cooper

“We just don’t make things anymore” is a refrain made by many British consumers as they sceptically eyeball the “Made in China” label.

They note the global rise of Asia which has eclipsed Britain’s peak manufacturing era during the Industrial Revolution, which started in the eighteenth century.

Though Britain is not at the forefront of production as it was 300 years ago, the industry is far from weak.

Figures show that manufacturing, which accounts for 2.5 million jobs in and 10 per cent of the UK economy, saw factory output increase by 1.9 per cent on last year.

Britain, the ninth largest global manufacturer, is a significant player in machinery to transport industries. It also has a 15 per cent market share in aerospace manufacturing.

Some experts have gone as far as to say that UK manufacturing is “booming again”as it saw its strongest growth in activity for two and a half years and output rose at its fastest rate for 19 years.

Despite the number of jokes which circulate around Jews and DIY, Britain’s steady reputation in manufacturing is partly down to its Jewish business leaders and innovators who contributed to the UK’s burgeoning base.

Historically, Jews had relatively little impact on the first phases of the industrial revolution in Britain such as heavy industry, coal and steel manufacturing. Nevertheless, they were important in the second phases of consumer production, such as the tailoring industry and furniture.

In the twentieth century, many of the leading British manufacturing companies had Jewish origins, such as Imperial Chemical Industries (established in 1926 by Baron Melchett) and Unilever (formed in 1930 from a merger involving the Dutch Van Den Berghs, manufacturers of margarine). Even the Glaxo in GlaxoSmithKline has a Jewish origin.

Sir Leon Bagrit, a leading industrialist who died in 1979, was the founder of Elliott-Automation, the first automation company in Europe. Sir Louis Sterling (1879-1958) headed EMI, and helped to design the system used by the BBC for transmission, while Sir Isaac Shoenberg, an electronic engineer, helped to invent a superior system of transmission for television which the BBC adopted. Sir Jules Thorn, born in Austria, was the founder of Thorn Electrical Industries, which grew into a large UK company. Other luminaries included Lord Weinstock at GEC and Sir Sigmund Sternberg, best known for his interfaith efforts, started out trading scrap metal.

There is a big push to attract high-flying graduates to this sector — including ambitious members of our community.

Even though many Jews prefer using our heads to our hands, we should not overlook R&D and other opportunities in manufacturing that made Britain so great.

Zaki Cooper works in communications and is a trustee of the Council of Christians and Jews

Last updated: 10:04am, October 17 2013