Poll: Is innovation counter to economic development?

Broken_Light_Bulb_by_Golfiscool_StockI have just been reading a brief article about a truly brilliant man and all-round committed champion of British manufacturing, John Elliott. John is the brains behind Ebac a large manufacturer of dehumidifiers, and soon to be the UK’s only manufacturer of washing machines. I have had the pleasure of meeting the man himself and he is everything you would expect from a British northern manufacturer; refreshingly bold, wonderfully straight-talking and delightfully opinionated. And this aforementioned article totally sums him up: http://www.insidermedia.com/insider/north-east/91573-

John’s personal cause is called StopGap (www.stopgapuk.com), with which he is campaigning to cut Britain’s trade deficit. Certainly a worthy cause, and one which has meant that he has received his fair share of publicity. In this recent article, John makes a characteristically bullish statement – he believes that Britain, to promote economic growth,  should temporarily suspend innovation in favour of producing what people actually need. I am personally unsure about this so I thought it would be a great opportunity for you to have your say.

The hypothetical question is:

In an effort to help the economy, should Britain suspend innovation for one year in order to manufacture the things people really need, or is innovation it's own means to economic growth?

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  1. Interesting question! I totally agree we need to encourage the growth of manufacturing here in the UK, and to encourage the utilisation of what we make – or else this is not sustainable, and we are just pursuing an ideal. However, I think we can increase manufacturing whilst at the same time being innovative – if we can identify a better way of making or designing something we need – then we get the best of both worlds! I agree innovation for innovations sake is a distraction, but innovation to improve what we really need should still be encouraged. A good question – and there’s much more debate to be had, I think!

  2. I agree with John Elliott, certainly from the manufacturing point of view. Where the washing machines are concerned I believe the finances are an initial £6 million with just a £1 million investment from the regional development fund. For that the we get the opportunity to buy British washing machines again, a brand new manufacturing facility (low carbon also) and 200 new jobs just for starters. That to me sounds like the best £1 million pounds the government have ever invested! Multiply that out and say 200,000 new jobs could be created for £1bn (plus private investment) making things we need and want. If what is made takes off as it surely will (leading to more jobs and investment) and this results in just 10% (by value) fewer imports and 10% more exports the deficit, unemployment and the trade deficit would all be wiped out! On the innovation front, I would not suspend it, rather make sure we exploit our innovations by making sure we manufacture them here. Graphene is a good example which shows great promise but we need to fully exploit it for the good of our own economy. Innovate, develop and make. None are mutually exclusive, we can and should do it all, and as good or better than anyone.

  3. Innovation is not the problem, it is the cure. I have worked in engineering all my life, mostly for a world beating company in Gloucestershire who design and produce products in the UK that are used by the vast majority of production processes all over the world. Indeed the very innovation that created the company (Renishaw PLC) was borne out of an innovative need during the design of the Concorde engine in Bristol. Renishaw’s largest growth sector is Asia & China who ironically turn to the UK when they wish to improve their own productivity.

    We are fantastic at designing patented products, we are even more awesome at manufacturing complex products – everywhere I go I see jet engines, diesel engines, aircraft parts, automotive parts, medical equipment, oil and gas valves – none of which I can buy in poundstretcher.

    We are poor at supporting the manufacture of simple products and paying that little bit extra to keep them manufactured in the UK. We are a proud nation but we worry too much about quality to make something cheap. I cringe at the the consequences of that statement but If we make something in the UK, it is often ingenious and will last forever. However it is frankly a bit too expensive for the modern disposable culture. The problem is not the innovation – the problem is the culture of the buying public and the non existent incentives to make simple products in Britain.

    My family and I have just been to France and 90% of cars we saw on the roads were French cars made in France. Not my own cup of tea but buying French keeps jobs in France. Hardly an Audi or BMW or Ford in sight.

    I travel to America and work with manufacturing companies there – Americans will spend more on what is frankly lesser quality products there, again to keep jobs in America. One of my compatriots in the US has the strapline “helping keep great – paying jobs in America, EVERY day!”, This is proudly attached to every email he sends. This kind of jingoism seems to have lost its nerve in the UK.

    Dyson should be held up as a classic and recent example of an innovative British product designed and manufactured (initially) in the UK which moved abroad. Do we really want to stifle the innovation & creation of the Dyson type products or do we want to work out how we could have ensured production didn’t move to Malaysia through better governmental and council decisions on tax breaks and planning. Initially the consumer market in the UK was sceptical of buying a Dyson because of its “inflated price” – James Dyson had to go to Japan to sell the initial product – only when the industry realised what a game changing design the Dyson represented did the entire industry follow suit and we all went out and bought one.

    We need British innovation to keep Britain Great but we need the British government to help the British people discover a bit of self belief and buy British innovation.

    • john elliott says

      I worry about the belief that we are fantastic at design, implying that we are better than the rest of the world and too good to soil our hands with menial work. The world doesn’t owe us a living, and the fact is that we are, and have been for many years, relying on debt to buy the goods made by others. We need to make more ourselves now. The products should meet two conditions, first there needs to be demand and second we need to be able to do it now rather than waiting for innovation. Who said we need perspiration not inspiration? I’ve heard about pie in sky stuff for longer than I care to remember. Albert Einstein said ” Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome”. It’s time for change and less living in the past and blaming others for our failings.

  4. For far to long British public buy cheap foreign imports thinking they are doing right. Im glad to see that demand for British made clothing is on the up, but does it need a fire in Bangladesh to change peoples opinion. Isnt it time to stop so called British brands importing from the far east and other countries and letting consumers think they are buying British made goods. How often do you see clothing with a Union flag on it, but it was made abroad. If it does not say Made in Britain it isnt! How can a service industry country sustain itself. Look at Cyprus and Greece.

  5. I’ve just viewed Mr Elliot’s entire speech:

    For me, as the former prototype manager for an engineering company, he hits the nail on the head early on in the speech.

    the need to design products than can be manufactured simply and consistently “right first time”.

    This is the kind of innovation we need in the UK. This is what we should be really good at. I’ve worked with 100s of designers and I would say less than 10% really get this – it is not just about having the brain for it, but the desire to push it through even if there is a higher initial design cost. The accountants would say “off shore it” in a heartbeat “to keep costs down”. This is wrong and a short term view that costs everyone over a longer term.

    A friend of mine has designed a patented and simple device for cooling bikers (http://www.ventz-range.com). He spent the majority of his considerable effort ensuring the entire manufacture and assembly was carried out in the UK at considerable personal investment. If he can do it, so can anyone.

    Coincidentally I am working with Rolls Royce Cars next week (which is one of the best manufacturing plants I have visited in the UK) but unfortunately it is not a British owned company (BMW). I think I should be offering my services free of charge to Ebac to help them succeed with the washing machine.

    View the whole presentation – it’s inspiringly simple.

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