Jaguar Land Rover shows how British manufacturing is leaping into the 21st century

March of the makers.

The car industry has long been at the forefront of manufacturing innovations. From the assembly line that made the Ford Model T, to the obsession with manufacturing quality that helped Toyota become a byword for reliability, the way cars are made has always been at the heart of the automotive industry’s development. As well as being a piece of unqualified good news for the manufacturing sector in this country, Jaguar Land Rover’s announcement last week of 1,700 new jobs at its facility in Solihull is also an exciting continuation of this story.

Jaguar Land Rover has always worked hard to develop highly advanced design and production capabilities in the UK. The latest expansion covers the development of car designs that can be quickly adapted to satisfy the rapidly changing demands of the market. Amongst other things, it is the company’s use of technology that makes such flexibility possible, empowering it to get products to market faster without compromising on quality. For example Jaguar Land Rover uses advanced, 3D design technology and immersive projections of virtual prototypes to rapidly assess and evaluate the impact of changes to the design of its vehicles. This empowers the company’s engineers to make alterations to the virtual vehicle, and simulate its operation, before the parts for the physical prototype are manufactured. It means that Jaguar Land Rover’s vehicles can be optimised for safety, style, efficiency and performance with much less physical testing than would historically have been necessary, accelerating their time to market and building their competitive edge.

Automotive manufacturing is one of the most obvious applications of such technology, since cars are amongst the most complex consumer products of all. However, consumer products form only a part of the global manufacturing output, and a smaller part of the UK’s. Many non-consumer products can be even more complicated to develop than cars, and the timelines even more demanding – think of drilling equipment for the energy, transport and water industries, of aircraft assemblies, or of refining equipment for rare metal ores. Changing trends in the global economy and changing priorities in global business mean that the flexibility and responsiveness afforded by design and manufacturing technology such as that used by Jaguar Land Rover will become a significant advantage for many different areas of the manufacturing sector.

This ought to be good news for the UK. The ups and downs of British manufacturing are well-documented but, as we look to the future, we should do our best to take advantage of the opportunities offered by changes in global business.  In recent decades, Japan and Germany have succeeded through a focus on efficiency and high quality, and China and Korea have flourished through a drive to reduce cost and time-to-market, but the business world of the future will reward flexibility, agility and innovation. The current changes happening in the manufacturing industry reflect this and the application of the technology in use at Jaguar Land Rover has the potential to help British manufacturers address these priorities.

Modern technology and global supply chains are fuelling accelerated change in dozens of industries. In energy (, smart grids, renewables), in transport (composite aircraft, hybrid cars), healthcare (sensor supported care), defence (UAVs, robotics), in entertainment (mobile broadband, smartphones) and in many other industries, technological advances over only the last 15 years have completely altered the competitive landscape. In the UK, we have the right combination of creativity, computing, design and engineering expertise to give us an edge in this new world order of manufacturing.

We’re unlikely ever to repatriate the manufacturing of high-volume, low-value products (and it’s debatable as to whether we would want to), but the success of the automotive design and manufacturing in the UK shows what can be achieved here when we use our expertise to tackle premium and specialist markets. Jaguar Land Rover is a fine example of what can be done when existing technologies are applied in an innovative manner, and there is much that British industry could do to replicate its success in other sectors.

Further recent signs of recovery in the UK economy are encouraging, but they cannot be sustained by internal consumption alone. The UK has run a trade deficit in every year since the Falklands war, and closing that gap should be a long-term priority for any government that wishes to see a robust distribution of jobs, wealth and stability in this country. Manufacturing has a huge part to play in that and, if this government is serious about facilitating the "march of the makers" then encouraging the kind of innovation in evidence at Jaguar Land Rover would be a good place to start.

Jaguar. Photograph: Getty Images

James Petter is the Vice President & Managing Director of EMC, UK & Ireland

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.