Event: Designed in Britain, Made in Britain

Friday 16 September, London Design Festival, Imperial College London

Made in Britain map“We want the words: ‘Made in Britain, Created in Britain, Designed in Britain, Invented in Britain’ to drive our nation forward. A Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers” said Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in his 2011 Budget speech.

In his prime time BBC documentary Made in Britain Evan Davis argued that creativity and innovation is the life blood of the British economy and mapped future scenarios. We have created a globalised economy in which new materials and processes proliferate, products and services have merged, digital and analogue are a continuum, and R&D funding models are being fundamentally challenged. Yet, substantial and high quality manufacturing is still core to London and its hinterland – from Coca Cola to Ford Motors, tractor makers to manufacturers of electrical products – and many global companies choose London as their creative hub.

On Friday 16 September, as part of the London Design Festival, we have co-programmed and Nico Macdonald is chairing the debate Designed in Britain, Made in Britain with the Imperial College-RCA Design London programme. This debate takes place at Imperial College London.

Taking part are Bonnie Dean, Chief Executive of the Bristol & Bath Science Park and Chair of Economic Policy Committee, Engineers Employers Federation; Gus Desbarats, Chairman of TheAlloy: experience led design, National Chairman of British Design Innovation; Nick Leon, Director of Design London; Miles Parker, Managing Director of Linx Associates Ltd and co-founder of the Thames Gateway Manufacturing Alliance; and Kwickscreen founders Michael Korn and Denis Anscomb, a company incubated by Design London and recent winner of the UK leg of the James Dyson Award.

We will be asking whether the city is again becoming a viable site for manufacturing. Can we can re-design design to help London, and the UK, build on its manufacturing strengths? How can we better integrate design and manufacturing? Where can education and national and local government help? And we will be debating the credible design-manufacturing visions for London’s economic future which could influence strategy over the next 50 years.

Please see the event page for more information and to reserve your seat. [Shared event listing] Attendees will be Tweeting about the event using the Festival hashtag #ldf11.

More generally, people involved in the Big Potatoes Design workgroup will be taking part in London Design Festival events and debates and we will be flagging them on the event sharing service Lanyrd with the tag ‘ldf11’.


One Comment so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. As another London Fashion Week shows another round of Chinese-made suits & shoes, this is a good time to list ways that politicians, pundits, and the rest of us punters can restore the right to make things in the UK.

    Fashion Week is a good start to a debate, run by a consortium of clothing importers called the British Fashion Council on a multi-million pound subsidy from the rest of us, it selects exhibitors with the help of fashionista pundits & fashion colleges. I want this to stop now. I don’t want to pay to promote export of British design if I’m also promoting the import of clothing. It’s bad value for me, as a taxpayer, and it’s bad for fashion designers too. There are examples of Fashion Week exhibitors displaying things before they know where to get a batch made. That may be rare but British Fashion Council is keen to show how business training it offers young exhibitors. If they exhibited the work of people who in the rag trade to start with, that would make more sense. The clothes might look better too. Not many of us are likely to end up with the job title of fashion designer, but a quick look down a station platform or a high street shows more variety and more talant, I think, than the average fashion show. If government simply closed down London Fashion Week tomorrow, I think the sense of fashion we see on the street outside and the chances of making it locally would all improve.

    Factory space is a solvable problem, as I discovered on a guided tour of the Olympics site a few months ago. The guide told me that many of the factories round-about had been abandoned. I want a cheap factory. I made enquiries. They had not. Their landlords had simply given-up answering enquiries for people who want to pay less than £1,000 a month and this is silly. Unemployed people are often asked what they are doing to get work, even if it is on lower pay than before. Factory landlords are not forced cajoled or encouraged to let their tatty space. Northamptonshire development agency even tries to keep rents up by paying to do-up tatty space so it is fit to attract outsiders and I think London Development Agency does something similar. It has also been involved in plans for shopping mals where there used to be factories, and individual councils have set their planning zones on the assumption that demand for manufacturing space will fall. They are wrong. Workshops are not cheap enough, and tatty workshop areas are not appreciated enough, that’s all.

    Talking of Development Agency success, there is a tendency to measure success in currency earnings, as though a strong pound was essential to low inflation and stable growth. I don’t know if that was true 30 years ago but here and now I think it untrue; I think a weaker pound would encourage exports by smaller companies, of the kind that employ people of all sorts and help the money slosh about in the economy. A scheme to attract some large figure for construction of a plant, or a firm that exports branded .jpg logos to support a non-dom millionare and a PR rep in the UK while the work is done in China – both of these raise the exchange rate without much money trickling down and about. So the measurement of success should not be in export earnings alone.

    I write as though the loss of manufacturing were the fault of development agency staff and politicians, but the truth is that most of us swallowed the story that between 1979 and 2009 a strong pound boosted the economy. It did not, but if you asked a hundred people if there was still a British motorbike manufacturer or shoe manufacturer in the UK, most people would wrongly say “no” just as they would be unsure how to deal with one if they found one. So trade directories are another 20th century habit that needs reviving. Government is well placed for this. Revenue and Customs in particular have a lot of data about who claims to be manufacturing motorcycles or shoes or blouses and those who pay taxes should, I think, be rewarded with an editable listing in an online trade directory. There would be no point in another directory like 192.com that just lists firms in categories, rightly or wrongly. The point would be to describe in encyclepedic detail what quantity, construction, market, or any other identifier that differentiates one manufacturer from another so that a good buyer can do the work and go straight to the right factory. They’d be surprised how much easier it is to go to the right place.

    Funding is a problem, even when given for well-made orders delivered on time. We pay taxes to the public sector for services but they pass it on to suppliers like Adbobe, Microsoft and the rest who are willing to deal with the public sector on its own terms. For example a year or so ago ministers promised that all government contracts would be made freely available to bidders. This has still not happened. I still have to pay hundreds of pounds if I want to know about defence contracts, and to play their particular games if I want to be taken seriously as a defence contractor. I would like all public funded organisations to make all their bids known to every UK manufacturer that meets the criteria and logs-on to a system to update their details and have a look. For example on Wikipedia there are something like half a dozen specialist UK motorcycle manufacturersm but a recent contract for fire brigade bikes went to BMW because they were the default option that was bedded-in to the system.

    Branding is another problem. In Italy there is a “True Italy” badge which proves that a manufacturer really does make in Italy. People like to buy it. In the UK there is no such scheme and when we sell things we are not even required to print a country of origin on them. A trendy M&S T shirt costing £22 can be made in China while a UK-made thermal costing £6 can be cheaper, but we still notice the branding and the point of sale more than the country of origin. There is no law that a product sporting a union jack must have “not made in the UK” written on it to avoid confusion. The law is written to encourage imports and not the other way around and the law needs to be changed. Going a bit further, the concept of goods made in a democratic welfare state is an obscure one, which is odd. Goods made to provide employment in Africa are sometimes touted as good things, or goods which use organic cloth. On the garment label scale, democracy, employment law, human rights, and a welfare state including pensions hospitals and unemployment pay are all to be taken for granted while a fair trade pillowcase goes to the top of the list. Balls. So, thinking of the Olympics, the problem is how to promote the home team on civil rights grounds, and acknowledge the diversity of people in the team rather than sounding like Alf Garnet. I’m afraid that sport has achieved this where industry has failed. Nobody is ashaimed to cheer an english team with players and managers from all over the world and the local ones of all racial backgrounds. But when it comes to promoting UK industry, it still sounds a bit like Alf Garnet to promote UK manufacturing and I’m a bit unsure how to change this. I have put a suggestion to UK crowdfunders on http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/ that they might support a batch of UK-made thermal T-shirts from a Manchester company trading in receivership, to encourage morale, buyers, and keep us warm in winter. I hope the model will be copied and that lots of people will offer batches of UK-made goods for those who commit themselves in advance so that a batch can be made and cut-out the middle people of shopkeepers and brand consultants who keep M&S prices so high.

    Finance isn’t as much a problem as it is made-out to be, I think. In the trades I have worked in, if you are willing to make a bit at home or pay for a small batch, your are OK. Obviously I am wrong and a lot of people need a lot of funding but I think that those government agencies which help manufacturers seek funding should also help them make things at home or borrow machines.

    Factory machines are my last point. You are getting into the swing of this. Someone sits in a bedroom and types “if I had finance, factories, fashion on my side and the rest I could supply the navy with ships and Harrods with dresses…”. This is a fair summery of where I am coming from and where hundreds or thousands of people should be coming from when they look at opportunities to make things. One of the starting points is access to machines which are heavy or obscure or expensive to have at home. Technical colleges like London College of Fashion sometimes have these machines, so it is possible for parts of government that fund technical colleges to encourage clusters of technology by insisting that these machines are hired out at a reasonable rate to anyonewho wants to use them.


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