Manufacturing decline and Britain’s ‘radically redundant’ industrial policy

Gordon Brown in 2008. David Cameron in 2010.  And now Theresa May in 2016. Since the financial crisis, Britain has had three prime ministers, and each one has promised a manufacturing renaissance based on a more activist approach to industrial policy.  The first two failed, but we need to understand how they failed in order to understand the challenge facing the May government (one which is of course compounded by Brexit).

In my recent SPERI British Political Economy Brief, UK manufacturing decline since the crisis in historical perspective, I contrast the recent performance of the British manufacturing sector with evidence of its decline in the last 40-50 years.

The good news is that since 2011, the historical decline in manufacturing jobs has gone into reverse, with the number of jobs having risen by around 5 per cent. Focusing on more recent decades, there had been a decline in jobs of 21 per cent from 1981 to 1991, 15 per cent from 1991 to 2001, and 33 per cent from 2001-2011.

However, while jobs growth has resumed, it has done so from a very low base in relative terms, and may indeed represent a post-recession ‘bounce’.

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Image: allen watkin