Stark divide in UK manufacturing as northern factories fall behind booming south

motor manufacturer

Manufacturing is booming in the Conservative heartlands of southeast England but in the newly blue former “red wall” constituencies of the West Midlands and northwest the picture is far gloomier.

Those are the headlines from Make UK, formerly the engineering employers’ federation, in its quarterly snapshot of industrial confidence.

The southeast is, after the northwest, the second largest manufacturing region, employing 400,000 people.

The report by the employers’ federation found that member firms in the southeast were well ahead of those in the regions, sometimes by a substantial margin, in terms of output, orders, employment and investment.

In export orders, the southeast scored a net positive balance of +39, the difference between the number of companies reporting a rise in orders and those reporting a decline. In the West Midlands, export orders stood at -9 and the northwest at zero.

In domestic orders the southeast reported a +30 balance. In the West Midlands that figure was -27, while in the northwest it stood at +8.

In output the southeast was at +26, the northwest at 16 and the West Midlands again in negative territory at -11.

With the West Midlands bearing the brunt of the recession in the automotive industry — Jaguar Land Rover has axed up to 6,000 jobs — the Make UK survey reported -16 in employment recruitment activity. In the southeast it was +26; in the northwest it was +4.

The West Midlands was the only region to report negatively on all Make UK’s growth indicators, while the northwest is also lagging behind Yorkshire, Humberside and the northeast on the other side of the Pennines.

Seamus Nevin, chief economist at Make UK, said: “There is a clear two-speed economy in manufacturing performance, with London and the southeast at full speed while some other regions are stuck in first or second gear.”

The figures are stark evidence of the task facing Boris Johnson to “level up” those areas that feel left behind.

Make UK also pointed to investment in London and the southeast in the industries of the future, including robotics and artificial intelligence.