Much modern economic development will take place in the creative and high technology businesses. But not everyone will find a job in those sectors and, according to Bath Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Ian Bell, it is still important to encourage the manufacturing sector to thrive.
Virtually every discussion about how to generate economic growth gets round, sooner or later, to the key role to be played by businesses operating in the creative sector or producing new pieces of high technology. We are delighted to see a number of companies working locally in both those areas, producing top quality magazines, video games, mobile phone technology and computer software of many kinds.
However, the Chamber of Commerce is interested in promoting full employment and in our members’ meetings the case is often made that not everyone will want jobs of that kind. Some will be interested in a more hands on style of work, making things that will continue to be in demand into the future. Those people must not be forgotten.
We have some reasons to be optimistic about the potential for growth in the manufacturing sector. Whilst UK based businesses have something of a disadvantage when it comes to pay rates when contrasted with other parts of the world, the cost of machinery is comparable, our reputation for quality remains undiminished and the price of shipping items from the far east has risen sharply making items coming into the country much more expensive.
Manufacturing businesses continue to operate around Bath, providing valuable jobs and making a real contribution to the local economy. But they need as much help as the more modern and potentially eye catching sectors.
One of the key issues is providing them with enough of the right sort of space within which to operate. That means having enough room to expand, good access for inbound deliveries and outbound shipping and most crucially of all, being in a convenient location for workers who could walk, cycle or take public transport to get to their jobs.
We know that space on brownfield sites around Bath is at a premium but opportunities occasionally arise. One of the greatest of those that will be seen for many years is how the Ministry of Defence sites are used. We can understand the temptation to use them very largely for houses in order to meet targets facing the Council. However, there’s no point in providing people with somewhere to live and then making them travel distances to their jobs. It would be much better to find a way to mix the use of the sites and to ear mark some of the space for manufacturing businesses who do not need a city centre location.
I accept that would mean a reduction in the number of houses that could be built on the remaining space but there would be real benefits in creating sustainable communities offering attractive jobs for the people who lived in them.
PUBLICATION: Bath Chronicle - 12th April 2012