Finish what you start

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'Building Britain's Future - New industry, new jobs' – that was the name of a strategy unveiled by Business Secretary Lord Mandelson on 20 April (

It highlights that: "We will be depending more than ever on higher value goods and services to drive exports and growth." Significant opportunities will present themselves, the strategy offers, one of which is "the transition to low carbon and the green revolution". Just prior to this publication's unveiling, Prime Minister Gordon Brown had talked up support for a UK push for electric cars in the context of building a 'greener' Britain. There will be initiatives to support and drive this British greening, no doubt, but let's hope that they remain in place long enough to have a positive and lasting effect. A few years back, government 'green' talk was focused on renewable energy and wind power. An initiative in the West Midlands, WindSupply, was put in place, but funding has ended too soon (see Last Word, page 54). Our cover story is another supplier network initiative story, this time focused on the rail sector. It will see its initial, tiny funding end next year and will then have to become self-financing. The problem is that it takes time to gather suppliers, help them make new contacts, prove their capability, and then expand that capability to grow within a new market. It takes many years, in fact, and the funding cycles that initially support any worthy initiative do not map to the same period. The argument, seemingly reasonable, is that, if industry sees an initiative's worth, it will support it. However, if funding is withdrawn too soon, the potential may not be fully established and companies not willing, therefore, to support its continuation. But even if they could, just how many initiatives could any one company commit to support? Manufacturers, particularly SMEs where all this support is aimed, work across multiple sectors. It is quite likely that a company will work across the rail industry, wind energy, aerospace and whole lot more. Many could use the support of a 'networking, supplier-buyer-market initiative' across many sectors, there's no doubt. An additional issue is the typically regional nature of support (because much EU policy and related funding is regional in nature) when it is national support that is really needed. Our cover story initiative has circumnavigated this issue successfully; WindSupply not. Interestingly, the new, government-prompted supply chain development initiative for the nuclear industry – the Office for Nuclear Development – has been set up as a national effort. But, in matters of government initiative and support, the fundamental message must be – finish what you start. Article first published in Machinery, May, 2009