Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the “Better Made in Britain” Halfords Challenge Day, given on 23rd November 1988.
CHIEF SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY
I am most grateful for the opportunity to join you today.
It is an ingenious idea to mount an exhibition in which retailers exhibit goods which they currently import but would rather buy in Britain. We all like to buy British if we can, provided of course, that the design, quality and price are right. That is critical. But if the manufacturers here today are as ingenious as Sir Basil, we all have cause for optimism.
You have called today a Challenge Day. It is precisely that – a challenge to greater competitiveness; a challenge to make products which can win on merit in the market place.
These days the British market place is a tough place to be. The truly outstanding quality of retailing in this country has made British consumers very discerning and demanding. They can’t be fobbed off with second best. Nor should they be. They want high quality, good design, and of course the best price. That is the challenge to UK manufacturers, and those that meet it will thrive.
This challenge is being made directly today by Halfords, the sponsors of this exhibition. I pay tribute to them for the turnaround and remarkable expansion they have achieved since the early 1980s. This has not happened by accident. They have achieved it by paying close attention to the needs of their customers. Their new service centres are the best possible illustration of this. Frankly it is not possible to grow from around 30 stores in 1979 to over 230 today without keeping your customers satisfied. They deserve our congratulations for what they have achieved, and for the cost and effort they have put in to this exhibition.
Today 70% of the goods sold in their shops are UK sourced. By 1992 they want that to be 90% – but only if British manufacturers can convince them they can compete on the trilogy of design, quality and price.
That is what BMIB is all about. To compete you must know what your customer wants. The BMIB exhibitions give very direct feedback. You must know what your competitors are offering. The BMIB regional audit of industry is invaluable here too.
The Government is also playing its part. We are providing the right climate, in which managers can manage, investment is worthwhile, and profits are not just respectable again, but recognised as the main aim of business. And to help British suppliers identify new opportunities at home we legislated in this year’s Finance Bill to enable Customs and Excuse to make available information on the sorts of goods and materials imported by different companies, so manufacturers will be able to approach them to see whether they could compete to replace those imports with British goods.
Competing against imports should be particularly attractive to smaller firms. They are on familiar territory, and face lower marketing and distribution costs. But it has a double bonus. In competing efficiently to substitute for imports they are making themselves more competitive internationally. For some, today’s exhibition may be the first step towards a future success in export markets. I hope that it is.
Not so long ago, it would have seemed very odd that we needed to prove that things could be better made in Britain. We all assumed that British goods were not just better, but the best. Other countries might be able to produce things cheaper, but not better.
The loss of the prestige attached to the “Made in Britain” label was one of the saddest aspects of the 1960s and 1970s. But now we are on the way back with a vengeance. The main reason that consumers first turned to foreign goods was that they were cheaper, then later that they were better. To win these sales back is our challenge today.
And it is a challenge that British firms are rising to. They accept the need to compete and above all recognise the importance of their customers. They know that if they don’t supply the goods that their customers want at a price they are willing to pay, then someone else will. They’ve known that for a long time. The difference today is that there are good reasons for optimism.
British business believes in itself again. It knows that it has a future. It knows it has to become more competitive. And it is doing so. It knows it has to invest. And it is doing so, at record levels. Not just in new machines but in design and reliability too. It knows it has to improve productivity. And it is doing so – faster than any other major country in the world.
To build on this success I believe we need to promote the virtues of British goods more positively. They should succeed or fail on merit and quality, and not fail because of the untrue and unfair parody that British goods are shoddy, and that it is chic to buy foreign. They are not. And it is not. And we should all say so, loudly and clearly, at every opportunity.
There is a long way to go. But our firms have shown what they can do. They have given the lie to those who thought that British manufacturing industry was finished. How wrong that is. The old inefficiencies are going. There is no reason why we should not see British companies again becoming a major force in areas such as motorcycles, machine tools and radio manufacture.
Let us set our sights high. Let us get back to a situation where goods made in Britain are not just better but the best in the world.