A great speech from Mary Portas see below, a big thanks to MiBMM for putting on this fabulous event!
Make it British by Mary Portas
Close your eyes for a moment.
I want you to think back to the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony.
Remember that little green hill with clouds, sheep and jolly peasants (some of them playing jolly old cricket).
Remember one chorister singing Jerusalem. Joined by groups of kids all over the UK singing Danny Boy, Flower of Scotland and all that.
Kenneth Brannah – to a backdrop of Elgar’s Nimrod, read Caliban’s soliloquy “Be not afeard” from the Tempest.
The papers had passed their verdict days before. It was sentimental old tosh. Like John Major and his “leather on willow” return to village greens and a world that was lost forever. (they’d been cleverly duped by the PR people into thinking that the hill was all there was).
And then BOOM.
Evelyn Glenny and Stomp and Underworld and our Industrial past rose before us.
Huge chimneys, massive iron wheels, hot metal forging the Olympic rings before our eyes, the stadium filled with sparks, smoke and heat.
It was extraordinary – it was ambitious as a concept and executed brilliantly.
900 million people around the world watched.
And I’m willing to bet that a majority of them knew more about the British Industrial Revolution than the people watching in the UK.
That night we were confronted with a brilliant truth that it seems everyone has forgotten.
We were built of steel and cotton, linen, wool and coal.
As a nation, we occupy an extraordinary place in the world because of the inventions at Coalbrookdale and Stanhill and the amazing sacrifices of the people who toiled away in our early factories.
Maybe we hated working in factories so much that we decided to not only export the products we produced but we somehow collectively decided to “off-shore” the whole idea.
Well that’s what a lot of people think anyway.
How often do I hear this lazy shorthand that “manufacturing is dead in this country”.
It’s not true – today is proof that it’s not true.
To that extent I know I’m preaching to the choir here.
You all know that manufacturing in the UK employs 2.6 million people, represents 46% of our exports (well ahead of services on 39%).
You all know we export £66 billion of mechanical and electrical parts and whilst admittedly a smaller number – last year we exported £3 billion in textiles.
Supposedly manufacturing-free regions of the UK seem to actually have rather a lot of people making things.
I know it’s frustrating for the headline writers who would rather it wasn’t the case, but the North West employing 340,000 people and making £20billion of goods in 2013 just doesn’t follow the narrative does it?
And what are 125,000 Geordies doing making £6.4 billion of stuff? I thought the paper said they were all strolling around the Quays pissed up and half naked in all weathers.
British manufacturing is alive, it’s well, it’s kicking and it’s cool.
It’s something I’m passionate about because I don’t want our Great Britain plc to be a service only economy.
I believe just as we individually get a kick from making things; creating things that didn’t exist before using our own skill and knowledge, we should also get a kick as a country that we make things too. Rolls Royce cars and Aero engines, JCB Diggers (which Horatio my little ‘un loves), Oil platforms, software that powers the worlds computers, the best vacuum cleaners money can buy and on and on.
The truth is – and you all know it – that we have a perception problem. We’ve listened to the misleading narrative in the media about post-industrial wastelands in the North and we don’t question them any more.
Competition time! Can anyone tell me which English region has a positive balance of trade? Name the region that exports more than it imports?
Must be London surely – with all that service business and the City – it’s the economic powerhouse of Europe no?
London may well be an economic powerhouse but it suck in imports like a child with a straw. The correct answer is the North East.
Whay Aye! Turns out the post-industrial dystopia, the Likely Lads, Auf Wiedersehen Pet and all that is just another cliché.
Of course whole industries came to an end, shipbuilding, steel making and coal mining employed thousands and no longer do.
But if you thought Ant, Dec and Cheryl were all down here because there’s nothing to do up there, think again.
Sections of the economy are booming. Technology – especially to do with undersea exploration, software – with businesses like Sage are growing fast.
I’m indebted to Martin Wainwright and his glorious “Myths of the North” programme on Radio 4 for pointing out that there’s a word for the next new thing.
The practice of businesses like Accenture in moving larger units out of London so that they can save money and their people can enjoy nicer lifestyles.
Look. British Manufacturing – It’s just like the High Street.
British Manufacturing never died, it just didn’t hire the right PR people.
The High Street in some places with the right dedicated people, retailers, community entrepreneurs and, if they’re lucky, a helpful local authority is staging a real come back.
I published an essay last week making the case that “Intervention Works”. That if the right local people get together and have a plan they can re-imagine their High street and protect a vital community resource. Whether it’s a High Street full of lovely independent shops full of treats and surprises, one with libraries, doctor’s surgeries, community spaces and hubs, open markets, little parks and benches and coffee shops what we’ve proved since the start of the review three years ago is that if people do something then things get better.
And it’s the same for manufacturing.
I proved something of this myself when I got involved in a TV programme idea that became “Mary’s Bottom Line”.
I was approached to make a series about competing with High street fashion and making a £5 pair of jeans in the UK. I politely declined as – and I strongly believe this – it isn’t what we do. We shouldn’t as a nation race to the bottom on price because it’s never a successful strategy.
Instead we had a go at ‘re-shoring’ and created a brand called Kinky Knickers (https://www.kinkyknickersuk.com/store/c1/Featured_Products.html). Headen & Quarmby worked with me to make the products in the UK. It meant all kinds of supply shortages – mainly of skills.
And if we’re not careful that erosion of skills is going to make it impossible to re-imagine British manufacturing.
With KK we made it although the road has had bumps including insolvency just after Christmas. But they are back and stronger than ever, the new range launches soon and the factory is now working with scores of brands.
I did it because I believe passionately in making things here. I believe we need a mixed economy with a blend of skills. I’ve proved with KK as we are starting to with High Streets that intervention works and there is no inevitable.
The big brands could help -as someone pointed out at the conference today, not just by looking to buy British first and supporting small makers but also in paying people on time.
How can a business that takes cash from its customers only pay suppliers 120 days after invoicing? Chuka Umunna, the shadow Business Secretary spoke about legislating to change these practices and I fully support him. It’s a scandal and needs full political weight to outlaw. In times of next to zero interest rates it cannot be any particular benefit to big businesses and is in my view simply procurement people finding something to do you justify their existence.
Here’s a different analogy for British manufacturing and why I totally believe we can make it back with making things again.
Restaurants. If anybody here is old enough to remember going out to eat in the 1970’s? – most of the time it was an appalling experience
Not just poor service – appalling service. Left for hours listening to the tick of the grandfather clock in soulless dining rooms waiting for cold slabs of previously roasted beast to be presented with over cooked vegetables and a “salad garnish”
All of this was brilliantly captured in Nigel Slater’s fabulous book “Toast” but my point in raising it now is that competition and most of all role models did away with those terrible restaurants and we now have widespread imaginative cooking and great places to enjoy.
An entire industry re-imagined itself – not in one go and not at once – in thousands of small acts of courage and creativity and realised it had to change and could change.
Now our restaurants are amongst the world’s very best AND most profitable and more creative. The spread of great places to eat is fairly complete – it’s hard to be too far from an imaginative, crafted and lovingly presented meal anywhere in the UK when it used to be almost impossible.
You are all leading examples of an entire industry determined to serve customers better and make money and I feel honoured to talk to you all because I think Kate (Hills) has a point when she says this is the start of a new industrial revolution.
We’ve done it before – lets do it again!
Well back to that Olympic opening ceremony, Danny Boyle’s love letter to the nation.
As a Creative Director I must mention as an aside, a story Frank Cottrell Boyce told on Radio 4 about the Olympics. He was talking about the brief for Thomas Heatherwick – the one that led to that extraordinary Olympic Cauldron with those petals representing the countries. That beautiful thing starting with all of those arms prostrate, waiting for the petals to be attached which then rose gloriously to create a flower as well as a furnace.
Every brief that’s gone to every cauldron designer in the modern Olympic era has instructed that “our” cauldron had to be bigger and better than the last one – in this case Beijing.
But the brief Heatherwick and his studio didn’t insist on scale and size.
Instead it had only one rule…
“No moving parts.”
I want every maker here to make a pledge – that Made in Britain means quality, value, ingenuity and pride.
I want every buyer here to make a pledge to try and buy it in the UK before buying it elsewhere.
I’d love all the journalists here to follow the excellent Martin Wainright’s recent Radio 4 programme “Myth of the North” and go and bust some of these lazy stereotypes.
If we get this right and make more stuff in this country then perhaps, as Caliban says, we should “Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises” and we can all “cry to dream again”.