22 March, 2019

The EU question

09 June, 2016
Ahead of the EU Referendum on 23 June, a number of insightful points on the topic were discussed during a lively panel discussion at the recently held BFPA AGM. With this in mind, I felt it timely to leave some of these views with you as you make up your minds as to which way you will vote on the day. The Association’s CEO, Chris Buxton, opened the debate by reminding the assembled of David Cameron’s speech to Chatham House in November last year during which the PM said “this is perhaps the most important decision the British people will have to take at the ballot box in our lifetimes”. Alan Halsall, a successful businessman and board member of the ‘Vote Leave campaign’, then presented his arguments for a Brexit. “I see massive youth unemployment; in many countries more than 50 per cent. I see economic growth in the EU from 2008 to 2015 stuck at 3 per cent, while the US over the same period has grown 25 per cent and the Chinese economy has doubled. I see Finland wanting a referendum on the Euro, and Poland recently warning Germany and the wider EU not to intervene in their affairs. I see Portugal in a constitutional crisis, Spain with no government and Holland voting against the EU-Ukraine trade deal. I see the more extreme right-wing parties all over Europe becoming more and more powerful because I think they feel that their voice has been forgotten amongst the unelected European ‘oligarchs’ and the centralisation of power into Brussels. I look at worrying political moves in Hungary, and we haven’t seen the end of the euro crisis for Greece with its continuing weak economy and increasing unemployment. We now have the only opportunity to leave the EU that we will have in our lifetimes. We haven’t had such an opportunity since 1975 and I think that we should take it.” Richard Butler, director at the CBI responsible for the West Midlands and Oxfordshire, then made the point that many business organisations, including the CBI, have conducted polls of their membership and the vast majority are in favour of staying in the EU. In terms of the perceived benefits of staying in the EU, Butler said we have unfettered access to a trading bloc of over 500 million people. “No other external country other than those within the EU has the same unfettered access,” he remarked, adding that the UK has access to trade deals via the EU with 50 other countries and explained that if we were to leave the Union, these deals would have to be renegotiated. “Our net cost of EU membership is between £9 and £10 billion a year – various studies show that the net benefit to the UK is between £2,500 to £3,500 pounds per household, which equates to between £70 and £90 billion,” continued Butler. He considered that overall, business concerns about leaving primarily revolve around risk, uncertainty, potential loss of access to various markets and the resulting need to renegotiate those trade deals. Moreover, Butler stressed that the UK would have to have some kind of relationship with the EU even if we were to leave. Therefore, both personally and on behalf of the CBI, he stated that he believed the UK should remain in the EU. Allie Renison, head of Europe and trade policy at the Institute of Directors, believes one issue that should be borne in mind – both as individuals and as people in business when voting on 23 June – is counterfactuals. “I can list a number of EU regulations that IOD members don’t like, but I think we need to ask the question, ‘How likely is it that the talk of existing legislation that has been transposed into EU law is going to change; including social and employment law?’ A lot of that is now sewn into UK national statute – in jurisprudence through the courts, for example. Similarly, the benefits that the EU has brought in terms of enforcing competition and non-discrimination – are those really suddenly going to evaporate for businesses? Some may, others are less likely to.” Another point Renison made was that when standards are being developed for different industries, representatives from these industries want to be in the room when they are being developed because of the potential impact that the standards will have upon their industries. She noted that for heavily regulated industries, the UK ‘being in the room’ was important to businesses both big and small, not least because of the likelihood that the British government would continue to follow those standards. Renison did explain however, that the IOD is neutral on the Brexit issue and that, on a personal note, she didn’t believe there were sweeping arguments either way. The floor was then given to Professor Richard Whitman, visiting senior fellow of the Europe Programme at Chatham House, Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent and a Senior Fellow on the Economic & Social Research Council’s ‘The UK in a Changing Europe’ initiative’. Professor Whitman reflected that there was a lot of information available, but not always in forms that are easily digestible and accessible. “Many people are not used to picking through the figures that are available and being able to make judgements about whether, for example, a Canadian style trade deal or a Swiss trade deal is better for the UK than the current arrangement,” he said. “That’s why the campaigns are important. However, the campaigns have tended to fall back on the fairly old model, which is to rely upon politicians. The Prime Minister has become the lead campaigner for the ‘Remain side’, which I think is inevitable. Unfortunately, much of the coverage now appears to have been set up as a kind of proxy battle for the future leadership of the Conservative party.” Professor Whitman considers that there are problems in terms of presenting a coherent alternative vision for membership of the UK. “It’s quite easy to posit the cost that may be associated with leaving, but it’s very difficult to measure this against the alternatives,” he said. Of course, the EU debate could run and run; but whatever the outcome after 23 June I hope and trust that it will be the right one for UK plc. Ed Holden Editor

The Apprenticeship Levy has arrived

13 April, 2017

The Apprenticeship Levy, a levy on UK employers to fund new apprenticeships first announced at the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in November 2015, has now been introduced. In England, control of apprenticeship funding is now put in the hands of employers through the Digital Apprenticeship Service. The Levy is charged at a rate of 0.5% of an employer’s paybill. Each employer will receive an allowance of £15,000 to offset against their Levy payment. The Levy will affect employers in all sectors, but will only be paid on annual paybills in excess of £3 million, and so less than 2% of UK employers will pay it.


An intelligent move

22 March, 2017

This edition of Hydraulics & Pneumatics includes a Preview of Hannover Messe; 2017’s main event which this year will feature the theme ‘Integrated industry – creating value‘. This theme of course points strongly in the direction of Industry 4.0 – an area of technological innovation that is increasingly transforming the manufacturing and engineering landscape; moving from being a visionary concept embracing many aspirational ideals to becoming a tangible reality in more and more working environments. This is certainly turning into the age of the smart factory. Intelligent manufacturing, for example, is a truly fascinating – some might even go as far as to say awe-inspiring – area of development. Take the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (IPT) in Aachen, Germany, for example, which is developing workflows in a way that could be a real game-changer. The Institute is currently progressing the idea of a production workflow that could develop flexibly – each part deciding for itself the best route through production.


Keeping a steady hand on the tiller

15 February, 2017

One thing’s for sure, 2017 certainly flew out of the traps politically, with a new US Government speedily following through on many of its pledges made during the presidential campaign of 2015/16. It seems like never a day goes by without some new executive order being unleashed with the by now well-practiced flourish of President Trump’s nib. At this stage of the proceedings, it may be difficult to predict the true effects and outcomes related to many of these actions and changes in policy; diplomatically, militarily and economically, but on thing’s for sure; the new White House incumbents certainly hit the ground running in earnest.


Engineering and the gender issue

09 December, 2016

Over the years engineering – often cited as one of the strongest examples of a male-dominated industry – has shone a particularly strong light in the direction of inspired women who have not only survived but excelled in the profession. Just a few of the many success stories are: Emily Roebling (1803-1903) is a name synonymous with the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in the 1880s; in 1926, Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972) became the first female member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; during the 1920s Beulah Louise Henry (1887-1973) patented an array of innovations, from a bobbin-free sewing machine to a typewriter that was able to produce multiple copies of script without the need for carbon paper; Mary Anderson (1866-1953) did all drives of vehicles a major favour by inventing the windshield wiper. It is barely worth beginning such a list, as the panoply of female success within the engineering discipline over the years has been impressively extensive.


A need to inspire

25 October, 2016

Engineering in all its guises is a discipline that has a profound impact on all of us every day; the roads we walk on, the bridges we cross, the buildings we live or work in, the vehicles that forward goods to and from shops and factories, the cars we drive, not to mention a host of high-tech business and leisure accoutrements we couldn’t live without in the modern age – the list is almost endless. So, if the next generation isn’t suitably motivated to pursue an engineering-based career, who is going to continue to innovate and maintain something that is so fundamental to the modern world?


A mature attitude towards the workforce

22 September, 2016

Many businesses employ a workforce that spans every feasible working age group. This can result in a varied and highly valuable experience dynamic, whereby the younger employees may on balance be more familiar with high-tech disciplines such as those related to IT (for example online business networking, computer-based remote diagnostics, e-commerce/Internet sales and marketing etc.), while the more mature staff may have a greater grasp of traditional trade skills (although one must of course not over-generalise). The main point is that workers of all ages have an important role to play in the modern workforce, and the more senior members of the team should not only be recognised as important and valued assets within the business, but also be suitably looked after to ensure they can go about their tasks in the most convenient and efficient fashion possible.


It’s all about relationships

18 August, 2016

In our May/June edition Editor’s Comment, we considered some of the arguments for the UK leaving or remaining in the EU.


The EU question

09 June, 2016

Ahead of the EU Referendum on 23 June, a number of insightful points on the topic were discussed during a lively panel discussion at the recently held BFPA AGM. With this in mind, I felt it timely to leave some of these views with you as you make up your minds as to which way you will vote on the day. The Association’s CEO, Chris Buxton, opened the debate by reminding the assembled of David Cameron’s speech to Chatham House in November last year during which the PM said “this is perhaps the most important decision the British people will have to take at the ballot box in our lifetimes”.


Keep safe

28 April, 2016

Within various manufacturing and engineering disciplines, as with many other professional pursuits, there are situations where the possibility of injury, or even death, increases. When working at height, it is of course important to adhere to a series of measures to ensure as best as possible that an unfortunate incident doesn’t occur. These measures should include, among other things, a general risk assessment based on the precise environment, equipment and circumstances involved, appropriate supervision, ensuring the work is only undertaken by trained personnel, and making sure that only regularly maintained equipment that is fit for the task is used.


The competitiveness factor

01 April, 2016

Manufacturers are motived by many business drivers. These are likely to include R&D and innovation; seeking to offer customers something that other companies cannot provide – whether that’s just a small but important tweak to something that is already established on the market, or something that is based more on ‘blue-skies’ thinking. A business could also have strong environmental aspirations – keen to set a high standard for other companies to follow in order to help mitigate the deleterious effect industry can have on our planet. But, of course, one of the most non-negotiable drivers has to be competitiveness. This is critical not just from the point of view of simply continuing to survive, but also in order to ensure a company is a strong and established player in its chosen market sector – producing quality goods while also having the ability to scale-up to meet increased demand for its products or services as and when necessary.


Train to maintain

25 February, 2016

As fluid power and motion control equipment becomes more sophisticated one might think that a need for a suitably advanced level of staff training is a non-negotiable. In the case of maintenance, for example, if a company doesn’t have the personnel to keep equipment in tip-top working condition it can hardly be surprised when it suffers costly and inconvenient periods of unpredicted downtime.


Take cover

01 December, 2015

Regardless of which profession people work in it is reasonable to assume that they will take the odd sick day off each year – although, as one might expect, figures are likely to vary depending on the sector in question. In the case of engineering, it may or may not come as a surprise to hear that over the past five years this sector has been ranked fifth among 25 different industries for the most days off sick with 21.29, in comparison to the national average UK of 15.27. More than 2 in 10 (21 per cent) engineering workers have sustained injury or become ill because of their job, which resulted in having to take time off work, according to a recent online study conducted by OnePoll on behalf of insurance company ‘There’, which surveyed 2000 employed and self-employed UK workers in different sectors. The engineering sector statistics were also found to be above the national average for sick days over a career (37.19 versus 34.97). Those who had been off for over a month stated that on average they were actually off for over three and a half months in total.


Unlocking the ‘productivity puzzle'

30 October, 2015

From time to time, forward-thinking companies need to make carefully considered business decisions concerning how to take their enterprise to the next level. Do they plump primarily for an investment in more machinery or other types of technology? Or do they prioritise focusing on improving the workforce’s skillsets? Well, recent research suggests that the latter strategy is currently gaining the upper hand among many medium sized manufacturers (SMEs) – particularly in London and the South East. Investing in the skills of their workforce appears to be a main priority for SMEs in this region, according to the latest Manufacturing Barometer – produced for the Business Growth Service.


Time for a green re-think

01 October, 2015

I would like to think everyone recognises the importance of doing their bit for the environment. After all, we live on a planet that has during its 4.5 billion or so years of existence come to have developed the delicate eco-system that we all rely on for our survival. Over a relatively miniscule period of time, man has made the transition from a reliance on hand-made tools and artefacts, and, for those that could afford it, the common vehicular benefits of horses and the like, to the post-industrial revolution epoch– with all its modern conveniences that have to sit alongside consequential environmental challenges. It is therefore perfectly understandable that any responsible government should check its nation’s industrial carbon footprint by putting in place a series of measures that help to address the dynamic between pollution levels and environmental vulnerability.


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