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Manufacturing sector 'better than 1980'
6:00am Thursday 19th June 2014 in Business
HUDDLED around the small production line, Black and Decker staff proudly smile for the camera.
Machinery briefly stands idle as a myriad of boxes teem with plastic components.
What appears to be skeleton of a garden strimmer lies ready to be worked on.
The company employed hundreds of North-East workers, its name synonymous with manufacturing.
This was 1985, right in the middle of a perceived golden era for the UK industry.
But a study says the sector now makes more goods than it did in the 1980s, with North-East firms playing a key role in the resurgence.
Bosses at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, says people must dispel the myth that the UK manufacturing sector was more productive 30 years ago.
It said 74 per cent of 2,000 people surveyed looked upon the 1980s as a boom time for British manufacturing.
However, it said the sector is now making more and providing more than 124,000 North-East jobs, pumping £6bn into the region’s economy.
In the 1980s, a number of manufacturing firms were settled in the North-East, supporting thousands of jobs.
But, despite their apparent successes in the decade, some soon disappeared from the region.
In 1997, Electrolux shut its refrigeration plant in Spennymoor, County Durham, axing 650 jobs, and closed its sister cooker factory in 2007, causing 500 further job losses.
In 2002, Black and Decker revealed 950 workers would lose their posts with work moving to the Czech Republic.
The company stopped work at its Spennymoor site in 2008, with 169 jobs axed.
British American Tobacco closed its Darlington factory in 2004, cutting 500 jobs as work was switched to Southampton.
Yet despite the setbacks, the North-East’s manufacturing industry still has a number of major successes, many of which were prominent in the 1980s.
Sunderland car maker Nissan, which made its first car in the region on July 8, 1986, now employs about 7,000 workers.
The region also has bus engine maker Cummins, in Darlington, and Nifco UK, in Eaglescliffe, near Stockton, which makes about 25 million plastic parts every month, including door handles and cup holders, for customers such as Ford, Honda and Jaguar Land Rover.
The firm was formed in 1967 as Elta Plastics, with Nifco buying it in 1990.
Darlington’s famous Whessoe, which made everything from railway locomotives to reactor vessels for the UK’s first nuclear power station, is now owned by Samsung C&T.
It has worked on projects including a 90,000m3 liquefied natural gas storage tank on the islet of Revithoussa, in the Gulf of Megara, west of Athens.
Lawnmower maker Husqvarna, in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, earlier this year committed its future to the North-East after taking on its first apprentices in six years.
The company makes Flymo garden equipment, employing about 240 permanent North-East workers and 420 temporary staff.
Andrew Tuscher, EEF North-East regional director, said it was important to highlight the manufacturing sector’s growth, which could inspire the next generation of workers.
He said: “It is time to ditch the urban myth that the UK manufactured more in the 1980s than it does today.
“The reality is that UK manufacturing is a huge success story and is going from strength to strength, employing 2.6 million people and accounting for 11 per cent of GDP.
“The good news is that manufacturers already have consumers’ backing, but if we arm them with the full facts about the strength, dynamism and versatility of this essential sector we will hopefully gain their pride too.
“This will encourage more young people to consider a career in our sector and make it easier to attract the talented and skilled employees needed for growth to continue at a pace.”