Last Christmas my wife bought me a dustpan and brush. They were beautifully wrapped.
She had bought them from Labour and Wait – a well known shop off Brick Lane in the east end of London.
There weren’t too many interesting features of my present, but one did catch my eye. My dustpan was made in the USA. It was of course, well made. Indeed the Labour and Wait website says that it’s a “great looking dustpan”, which is “lightweight and engineered to lay flat and flush with the floor making sweeping into it very satisfying”. And I can testify to that.
So how is it that a dustpan and brush can be profitably made in the world’s most expensive labour market? And why are we importing them?Manufacturing places in the UK
Before answering that … which I will attempt in my next blog …. we should all applaud the fact that IT CAN BE DONE! It’s possible to manufacture the most mundane of things in an advanced, high wage economy, and presumably do it at a profit.
We’ve been labouring under the illusion for a long time (well since Margaret Thatcher anyway) that manufacturing is something we can let others do. We have largely forgotten that money is made in the long term only by making things. The Americans still make brushes, polishes, plastic goods and so on, the manufacture of which we’ve largely outsourced.
Now, as we re-discover the importance of manufacturing and as it has just recorded its best performance in 16 years, we should reflect on our ignoring of it for so long and the devastating impact that this has had.
Perhaps one of the most unfortunate impacts is the low esteem in which manufacturing is held and the unattractiveness of it for our brightest graduates – particularly women.
As good as it is for our creative industries to be strong, we don’t grasp the fact that these are companies that serve other businesses. I can’t help feeling that a brief to design a dustpan that is satisfying to sweep into wouldn’t create a stampede to the drawing board.
So for what it’s worth, here’s my tribute to our manufacturing places (shown on the G-View map) and to the 2,358,400 men and women who work there.
But in particular, we should pay particular tribute to the 23,800 who manufacture ‘cutlery, tools and general hardware’. If you are one of these people, please remember, as you perhaps ponder the fact that you don’t make IPads or Ixuses, that all over America there are companies productively making products arguably more work-a-day than yours. I will come back to that!