13 December 2011

It’s a wonderful life

A very merry Christmas to you all. And if you get the chance to put the BlackBerry aside this Yuletide, please settle down on the sofa and watch It's a Wonderful Life. It's not just a great Christmas movie, but also a cracking metaphor for British manufacturing.

You guys are ringers for George Bailey, the film's wholesome star played by Jimmy Stewart. George is the hub of the local community of Bedford Falls. He works altruistically for others, adding value by offering affordable loans and housing to the town's residents.

But George's work is unspectacular and underappreciated. He watches enviously as peers enjoy the big time after pursuing less selfless careers. Community lynchpins, adding value and in the shadow of more glamorous contemporaries... sounds familiar, doesn't it?

The film's famous denouement sees a downtrodden George wishing he'd never existed, only for a guardian angel to show him what a devastating blow that would be for Bedford Falls. It's much like the scenario playing out in the UK, minus the deity.

Manufacturing had to hit a crisis for the government to wake up to the sector's crucial importance. A world without you is a vision of Hades:?unprecedented unemployment as two million join the Jobcentre queue; social disorder as entire communities implode; a nation too poor to import goods and lacking the nous to make its own. The very thought should be enough to have David Cameron beating down the door to give you a bear hug.

The good news is we're a long way from the manufacturing apocalypse. Businesses are upbeat about prospects for 2012 according to our annual Manufacturing Outlook survey (p19). Morale is soaring, with many planning to invest in new plant and boost headcount over the coming year.

Manufacturers are bearing fruit after a ruthless commitment to improvement during tough times. Some big retailers could be about to face the same challenge. So while they spend Christmas staving off the creditors, manufacturers can enjoy a mince pie and think to themselves that although things are far from perfect, overall it's a wonderful life.

Max Gosney

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