Herald Article December 2020

Like most of us I suspect, the second half of December is a time to reflect on the ups and downs of the year nearly past and look ahead to the opportunities and challenges of the one coming.

Of the uncertainties that this year has thrown up, the one I expected to be clear on by now was Brexit – after all, four-and-a-half years have passed and we have 10 days to go until what we were led to believe was the final, final, definitely this time, deadline. So, looking ahead I will start elsewhere, somewhere that there can be optimism that a path to recovery is not only possible but probable too.

Six of these developed vaccines are now approved by countries, with a host of others in various stages of development coming behind. Manufacturing teams are rising to the challenge of how to scale up high volume production for a product that didn’t exist a few months ago, enabling the complex logistics of mass immunisation, and crucially a future easing of the restrictions that have been critical to public health whilst being deeply damaging to our economy.

For many parts of the economy, and engineering and manufacturing especially, the recovery from this recession looks likely to be different from all others, in a way that many might regard as an accidental bonus of COVID-19.

The focus on climate change and the actions that will take us to net zero, de-carbonisation, or a green economy has never been sharper, and this is before the building momentum that COP26 will bring as its delayed appearance in Glasgow next November now looks highly likely.

Both the UK and Scottish governments’ policy focus for recovery has been firmly on enabling a move to technologies and skill sets that will contribute to meeting targets that increasingly carry a language of “sprinting” and “racing” that reflect the collective urgency.

The Scottish Government’s own Manufacturing Recovery Plan is open for consultation now, having been built around the need for de-carbonisation based on input from a wide range of stakeholders including ourselves.

In doing so we are confident we represent the views of our industry who have told us they recognise the climate emergency is real and requires an urgent response, and recognise that the infrastructure investment required in energy, transport, food production – every aspect of our lives – to meet this challenge presents substantial and real opportunity for diversification and growth.

What it will also require, however, is a change of mindset to maximise the proportion of those solutions that are home-grown and manufactured, particularly in public procurement processes, and honestly, a better appetite for balanced risk.

Every well-mentored engineer will have heard that if you don’t make mistakes you won’t make anything, and that means spending more energy in learning from those mistakes and rapidly moving on, than carrying out an endless post-mortem and remaining in stasis while the world moves on around us.

In a final view forward, I cannot ignore Brexit, as much as you and I would like me to.

In the last few weeks, talking with anxious companies struggling to ensure readiness for the first day of 2021, I almost convinced myself that a Trade deal was almost a secondary concern against the cost and delay that the additional administrative burdens of Brexit will bring, deal or no-deal.


Paul Sheerin

Chief Executive, Scottish Engineering