Kitchen blenders tell us everything that's wrong with UK manufacturing

What do kitchen blenders tell us about the UK economy?

Kitchen blenders are well-known labour-saving devices, popular all over the world. Millions of them are sold every year, many of them to British homes. They used to be made in the UK, but now no blenders are made here. All of them, every single one, is imported from abroad, mostly from China. What has gone wrong?

This is indeed a sad state of affairs. Kitchen blenders are relatively simple to manufacture. Until the late 1980s Kenwood made its iconic blenders in the UK, before moving its operations to China. But why don’t we still make them? The production processes involved – tool setting, machine minding, assembly, testing and packing – can mostly be learned by a workforce in a couple of days.

You don’t need much management experience to run these kinds of operations; to order the right components, ensure the correct specification and quality standards, to keep waste to a minimum, and to make sure that costs are kept under control.

Private sector manufacturers cannot thrive with the odds stacked against them and with little chance of profit

Making kitchen blenders is not rocket science. So why are none of them produced in the UK today? There is a simple reason: the cost base in the UK is too high. Essentially, it costs far more to produce them here than it does in the Far East. As a result, not only kitchen blenders but thousands of other medium and low-tech products, which could perfectly well be manufactured in the UK, are all imported from abroad, mostly from the Far East.

The story of kitchen blenders is symptomatic of UK manufacturing today. We were once a country of makers and producers, we were large-scale manufacturers of clothing, textiles, household goods, aircraft, industrial vehicles, ships, trains, packaged goods such as chocolate and sweets, and so the list goes on. But since the 1960s we have moved slowly, and then from the 1980s onwards much more rapidly, from being a nation of producers to a country of importers and consumers.

Since the 1960s we have moved from being a nation of producers to a country of importers and consumers...

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