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Is The Raspberry Pi 2 an indication of an evolving UK Manufacturing sector?

Jonny Clark

3rd February 2015

Vince Cable took the unusual step of commissioning a report into the future of UK manufacturing - attempting to look decades into the future. The report, written by Sir Mark Walport and Sir Richard Lapthorne made several recommendations.

The UK Manufacturing sector needs:

  • to develop a capacity to rapidly alter physical infrastructure will require the ability to shift production form one location to another or quickly to alter the technology used for manufacturing
  • to be more responsive to changing customer needs
  • to have adaptable Human capital who have an ability to be multi-skilled and open to change
  • Businesses will need to hire staff with a wider skill base and have well qualified managers
  • Investment will need to continue to grow
  • and Manufacturers will need to be able to rapidly alter their supply base

The size of the UK manufacturing sector has been in decline (as a proportion of GDP) for decades. It is the smallest proportion of all the G7 countries. This could help explain, in part, why the UK saw the largest fall in real household income compared to its G7 partners during the Crash - the UK may have an over-reliance on the services sector, with particular reference to the financial markets sector. When we hit a world-wide recession, a reliance on the financial markets could cause greater shocks for the UK economy then other countries. Hence, why Cable was attempting to work out the best way of, at least, maintaining our current level of manufacturing and making it competitive.

When you first see a Raspberry Pi, you may be forgiven for thinking that it is a surplus circuit board from a washing machine. It is credit-card sized, comes without any casing or peripherals (no keyboard or mouse or monitor!) and looks like it might fall apart in your hands. It is also only £22 to purchase. The primary function of the computer is to allow an affordable distribution of PC technology to promote coding and software development among young people. They've also become popular with adults who use them to build technological projects such as multi-media hubs and allow automation of household controls of lights and heating. The initial computer has spawned a whole industry of peripheral product designs with some very natty cases available.

It's sales success comes from doing exactly what Cable wants from a UK manufacturer; using well-educated and trained designers to develop a desirable product, build the product in a UK factory (albeit a factory owned by the Japanese!) and compete on the world market. The PC also meets a growing need for young people to develop their coding skills (after all, they don't need a PC to listen to music or watch movies any more; they've got a phone that can do that) and improve our Human Capital.

So perhaps, it does represent an example of a Brave New World in UK manufacturing. Click on this link to see an introduction of the new Raspberry Pi 2.

Jonny Clark

Jon Clark has been teaching economics and business studies for over 25 years primarily in the Further Education sector. Before joining tutor2u, he was a senior manager at South Cheshire College in Crewe.

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