This year is the 160th anniversary of the Great Exhibition. In Victorian times Britain was very much the “workshop of the world” and the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park showed off Britain’s manufacturing talent. Britain is still a major manufacturer, about the world’s 6th largest. Now Parliament is staging a twenty first century version of the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Last month I went to the launch of ‘Made by Britain’ in Portcullis House by Vince Cable, the Business Secretary and Barry Sheerman, chair of Parliament’s Manufacturing group. The idea is to showcase 650 examples of British manufacturing and design in a virtual exhibition. Each MP has been asked to nominate something from their seat that can be shown in a new web site. Britain is a world leader in avionics, pharmaceuticals and motor engineering. So for some MPs their nomination is an obvious one – for instance my colleague Lorely Burt has nominated Land Rover, made in her constituency of Solihull.
For me, as an MP representing a city centre and inner suburbs,this isn’t so easy. Historically, Bristol West produced many goods. The world’s first chocolate bar was made in Broadmead. At the time of the Great Exhibition areas such as St Pauls, Redcliffe, Barton Hill and Easton had many cotton mills, boot manufacturers, glass kilns, brewers and wagon makers. A century later and most manufacturers had already moved out of the city centre. New industries such as aviation had sprung up around Filton. Over the remainder of the 20th century industry followed the docks and moved to the city limits or completely out of Bristol
Now in 2011 the economy of Bristol’s city centre is still very successful, one of the wealthiest urban areas in Europe. But the economic activity is centred on education and services. That means many of Britain’s industries are supported by research done in Bristol University. I have visited the Set Squared incubator unit on Park Row several times to see the small businesses there that have grown out of research in engineering, physics or biology. But even Bristol and UWE’s joint school of Robotics is based at Frenchay and the new S Park science centre will be based at Emersons Green.
But there are still many small niche manufacturers and designers based in Bristol West. So I have to nominate one from Clifton through to Easton. There is of course an obvious example. Last week the Prime Minister visited Aardman Animation’s HQ on Harbourside. Bristol is a world leader in certain areas of film making and the digital economy is critical to our future.
So I should probably nominate Wallace and Gromit, which was my suggestion to Vince on the day of the launch. But I’m open to alternative suggestions. Please send me ideas on email@example.com or comment below. Remember, my nomination has to be something made or designed in my Bristol West Parliamentary seat. This covers the council wards of Ashley, Bishopston, Cabot, Clifton, Clifton East, Cotham, Easton, Lawrence Hill and Redland or the post codes (roughly) of BS1, BS2, BS5, BS6, BS7 and BS8.
I will submit my nomination for the exhibition when Parliament returns in the first week of September. You can see a report of the launch with 40 MP nominations here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/jul/05/manufacturing-made-by-britain?INTCMP=SRCH