Gov: High-tech engineering (car making) will save Blighty

Squeaky wheel gets the grease

Analysis More news from the British government's push to revitalise the economy through high tech today, as the Trade and Investment Minister - a former banker - briefed reporters on a new national marketing effort for UK "advanced engineering".

In essence, the government want to let the British people - in particular the schoolchildren - know that actually Blighty's engineering and manufacturing sector is in much better shape than one might think. It is the sixth biggest in the world, in fact, and according to UK Trade and Investment (UKTI, the Trade and Investment minister's bureau) it delivers fully a third of British exports - £109bn.

If British kids can be persuaded to pay some attention at school, and so go on to qualify in technical disciplines at university, this state of affairs might continue or indeed improve - that's the thinking. And if overseas purchasers and investors can be helped to see through Blighty's image as a place which doesn't take technology seriously, that would be good too.

According to the newly-ennobled Lord Davies of Abersoch (formerly Mervyn Davies, chairman of Standard Chartered), the issue is largely one of perception. The UK has always been strong in high-tech engineering, but nobody ever mentions it.

"If you in the press won't report [the greatness of British high-tech] we will have to get the message out via other channels," he told assembled biz reporters at a briefing in London today. For instance this new website (warning: Flash).

One big success area the government sees for UK "advanced engineering" is the automotive sector, which according to UKTI makes up £9.8bn of the nation's annual economic activity. But even UKTI admit that car making in Blighty has its problems.

"Our automotive sector, while currently enduring a particularly difficult time, has over recent years developed an ability to drive down costs and deliver to tight deadlines," says biz minister Lord Mandelson. And indeed today there's news that Toyota will cut pay and output at its two UK factories.

Interestingly, UKTI claims that various other kinds of tech manufacturing are in the same sort of league for the British economy as automotive. For example the space sector is now said to amount to £7bn of annual economic activity - better than three quarters the size of the car industry, apparently. Motorsport, as distinct from mainstream automotive, is said to come in at £5bn - more than half the size of the regular car industry. The manufacture of construction equipment such as JCB diggers is almost as big as that of making normal vehicles, at £8.5bn according to UKTI.

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