Any modern manufacturing site is highly dependent on quality infrastructure to operate at maximum efficiency and capacity. Raw materials need to arrive at the site efficiently and finished product must be moved to market quickly. People need to arrive for shift-based work on time and be able to travel home again easily. No amount of internal efficiency can compensate for raw inputs or operators failing to arrive on time. As manufacturing operations become more productive through ‘just-in-time’ processes, reliable energy and transport networks for people and goods become ever more important.
Quality infrastructure is also among the most important dimensions of the inward investment case for the UK. A large port network with global connections and good onward links to the European continental market all make the UK attractive. Other aspects of infrastructure investment can contribute materially to inward investment business cases, for example protecting sites from flooding or weather damage, or improving sustainability performance through on-site energy generation.
Moving goods around the UK by road and rail is a constantly evolving challenge, requiring consistent investment. The World Economic Forum ranks the UK 27th globally for infrastructure quality. This baseline can be further eroded by disruptions in international supply chains, for example the Channel Tunnel closures in 2015.
Geographically distributed manufacturing sites across the North of England mean reliable transport for people is crucial for workforce planning, and consequently for productivity. Nestlé sites such as Tutbury are fortunate to have a large and able workforce on their doorstep, while others draw in people from further afield. The more efficient transport networks are, the wider this pool of employees, and the greater their flexibility in choosing where to live.
Ambitions for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, built around integrated travel-to-work areas, could potentially play an important role in rebalancing growth across the UK. The concept is dependent on quality infrastructure, and should be a key factor in prioritising stretched transport budgets.