JCB chairman Sir Anthony Bamford has laid into the Britain's neglect of manufacturing and engineering – and urged policymakers to make the sector a cornerstone of future economic growth.
The owner of Britain's largest construction equipment manufacturer pointed to the JCB backhoe loader as an illustration of the UK's economic decline: in 1979, 96% of its components were British-made; today, that figure is just 36%.
“In many instances, the companies that supplied JCB 30 years ago are simply not there now,” Bamford told The Daily Mail.
He compared Britain's unbalanced economy and its handling of the downturn with Germany.
"Little over a year ago, Germany plunged into its worst post-war recession, yet now it seems that an export-driven V-shaped recovery is well under way, with the chemical, engineering and electrical sectors forecasting overall export growth of 50%,” he pointed out.
“It has a lot to do with the country's sensible industrial policy and forward-looking employment legislation.
“Engineering has always been the backbone of Germany's manufacturing prowess. The profession is a source of personal pride for a man or woman who studies many years to design and manufacture products someone wants to buy. Being an engineer in Germany earns instant respect.
“Sadly, we've lost our way in Britain over the past 30 years. Manufacturing as an industry and engineering as a profession don't have the same importance in this country.”
Bamford believes successive UK politicians have attributed too much importance to other sectors such as financial services.
“It was at the expense of manufacturing,” he argued, “and the consequences are plain to see: an ever-declining contribution from manufacturing to our GDP, declining employment in industry generally, reduced investment in production technology and an inevitable diversion of young talent into careers in different areas.”
When the global financial crisis struck, the response of German policymakers was “inspirational”, said Bamford. "They introduced short-time working, with the German government paying employees for hours not worked due to the downturn so that their employers could keep them on the payroll.
“JCB employees in Germany benefited from this forward-looking approach. However, our British employees didn't benefit, because no such short-time working policy existed in this country.
“We had no choice but to make people redundant – although I'm pleased to say we're starting to recruit again. It's just a great tragedy that we had to let good people go in the first place.”