MANUFACTURING still has a major role to play in the economies of rural areas such as the Borders and the region can benefit from a growing trend of companies relocating away from low-cost locations such as Asia, according to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
The Lib Dem leader was speaking to TheSouthern during a visit to the Mainetti (UK) garment hanger factory in Jedburgh on Tuesday.
He was accompanied by Borders MP and Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, South of Scotland Lib Dem MSP Jim Hume and Scottish Lib Dems leader, Willie Rennie.
Mainetti employs 5,500 workers worldwide, with 210 at its manufacturing plant in the town’s Oxnam Road.
Mr Clegg held the Jedburgh firm up as a good example of what can still be achieved in the manufacturing sector, despite the current economic downturn.
“This [hanger production] is not something this part of the country is known for, but it’s really wonderful to see such a dynamic company, committed management and so many people gainfully employed locally,” he told TheSouthern after a tour of the factory, where he spoke with employees.
Asked if he felt manufacturing still had a major role in an area like the Borders, Mr Clegg responded: “Massively so. There are now arguably more, rather than less, opportunities for manufacturers in the Borders and elsewhere, as increasingly manufacturers from around the world come to recognise that exploiting low-cost locations in Asia is not everything in life.
“When consumers want products which follow fashion almost on a week-by-week basis, something produced on the other side of the planet is not the way, so there’s a bit of a trend of relocating manufacturing back to our hemisphere and I think that’s a very good trend and one which I hope the Borders will benefit from in the years ahead.”
Mr Moore said part of Mr Clegg’s role as deputy prime minister was to get out and about across the UK, particularly focusing on how the economy is performing.
“I was keen to show him that here, in the heart of the Borders, which most folk outside of the Borders would take as a rural area mostly focused on agriculture, we have got some amazing manufacturing facilities and this is one of the finest,” said Mr Moore, MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk.
“Here you have a company producing 100million hangers a year, recycling another 400million and doing that from a site they’ve been on for the last 40 years.
“So, if we are talking as we are on rebalancing the economy, focusing on industry, on manufacturing, this is what we need more off across the country.
“And so, understanding what they [manufacturers] need from us to be even more on the front foot, is what we are here to listen to. And for Nick, it is an insight into the fact that rebalancing can be made real.”
Quizzed on whether he was worried that successful local manufacturers, may face similar problems to the situation encountered by Hawick knitwear firm Barrie, where a successful local firm gets caught up in problems engulfing a parent company, Mr Moore said he was confident a buyer would soon be found to secure the 180 jobs at Barrie.
“Globalisation came to the Borders many decades ago and every version we’ve had, we’ve coped with,” he said.
“Here at Mainetti they once only manufactured, now they manufacture and recycle and that shows just how great Borders firms are at adapting and they need to keep doing that.”
On the political front, following poor results for local Lib Dem candidates in May’s local elections and at last year’s Scottish parliamentary elections, TheSouthern asked Mr Clegg if he was confident that the next general election in 2015 – which will mark half-a-century of the Borders returning either a Liberal or Lib Dem MP – would see that tradition continued.
“I don’t want to gloss over the fact that we have suffered some serious bumps and scrapes, because we’ve done something we’ve never done before,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve been in government since the party was formed and we’re in government in very controversial circumstances.
“Whoever was in government at the moment would be having to make difficult decisions and while some people might think it better for the Liberal Democrats to be in perpetual opposition and never ever dirty their hands with government, we are a responsible political party and I think most people would recognise it was right for us to step up the plate and play our role in rescuing, reforming and repairing the British economy.
“But yes, that has meant we’ve incurred a significant hit to our short-term popularity, but no, I don’t think that is a permanent trend and I think as people see we have done the painstaking work to restore a sense of prosperity, optimism and hope for the future, I firmly believe people will come to support us here and elsewhere.”