Manufacturing renaissance in industrial regions? The changing geography of advanced manufacturing in Britain

Authors: PETER SUNLEY*, Southampton University, Ron Martin, University of Cambridge, Emil Evenhuis, University of Southampton, Andy Pike , University of Newcastle
Topics: Economic Geography, Business Geography, Location Theory
Keywords: regions, manufacturing, clusters, industry, policy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Empire Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The sectoral and spatial imbalances in the British economy have provoked a political call for ‘rebalancing’. It is argued that rebuilding the country’s manufacturing base will not only help provide a more stable mode of economic growth, but also promote a more even geographical distribution of growth across the UK. However, despite the profound uncertainties surrounding manufacturing after the Brexit vote, there has been a lack of recent research into the evolution of manufacturing across Britain. Our research project “Manufacturing renaissance in industrial regions?” (www.southampton.ac.uk/geography/research/projects/manufacturing-renaissance-in-industrial-regions.page) focusses on several advanced manufacturing industries seen as key to any industrial renewal. The aim of this paper is to examine the changing geography of advanced manufacturing in Britain, based on detailed and long-run data going back to the early 1970s. The paper finds that dispersion rather than geographical concentration has been the dominant trend over the past three decades, creating new centres and belts of manufacturing activity. Regions with a large manufacturing presence in the past do not appear to be especially favoured as locations for advanced manufacturing, and only some of these regions have experienced considerable growth in segments of advanced manufacturing. The paper examines patterns of growth and decline, and how they relate to the uneven development of advanced manufacturing ‘ecosystems’. We find that the benefits of clustering for the performance of manufacturing firms are limited and selective. These findings raise challenging questions for the UK Industrial Strategy’s place and cluster-based approach and the potential contribution of advanced manufacturing to spatial rebalancing.

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