Mike Matthews MBE, Managing Director at Nifco  UK Limited

Mike Matthews MBE, Managing Director at Nifco UK Limited

Driven to succeed

The North East’s export performance is underpinned by the automotive sector says Mike Matthews MBE, Managing Director at Nifco UK Limited and it remains in rude health despite all the political upheaval and uncertainty.

The North East is not a region that tends to panic. We are not prone to being flustered, nor do we flap. We do not fold in the face of adversity and we certainly don’t flee a challenge. What we do is we make things…and, in the last few years, we’ve also become pretty good at selling those things, usually overseas – the North East leads the UK in Exports. That is especially true in the automotive sector, which underpins the North East’s incredible export performance. The only region with a positive balance of trade in the country, I might add.

Readers of this excellent publication don’t need me to tell them that 2016 was a year like no other. But what people might not know is that despite uncertainty surrounding increased regional devolution, the inevitable impact of Brexit, a fluctuating global marketplace in the wake of the most incredible American presidential outcome in history, and let’s not forget everything going a little quiet on the Northern Powerhouse, our automotive sector endures, and remains in rude health.

Provided with a considerable boost with the fantastic announcement that Nissan had secured both the new Qashqai and the X-Trail SUV, this news seemed to rubber-stamp our credentials as one of the world’s elite hubs for automotive excellence and made the statement that we can continue to flourish in post-Brexit Britain.

Much focus had been placed on our sector since the outcome of the EU Referendum and it would be wrong to say that there was not some degree of uncertainty, as we waited to hear from the Government its plans to protect the industry. So for Nissan to secure these two vehicles so quickly coming on the back of Brexit represented not only a huge win for those directly employed by the firm, but also for a great many businesses in its supply chain. 

Car parts manufacturers like Nifco obviously welcome the regional backing from this global industrial giant, but the logistics businesses that support Nissan; the training companies that ensure it recruits the right people; the IT companies delivering back up support – all will have given a collective cheer when the news was announced.

But most importantly, it sent a message to the rest of the world – the North East is a great place to invest in automotive excellence. We operate in a sector that has become part of the very fabric of the region – our industry employs over 30,000 people. That multiplies to 141,000 if you consider the businesses dependent on the automotive sector across the whole of the UK.

With more than 240 automotive companies in the North East, we are major employers, but we also have an eye on the future.
The vast majority of the large players in the region have taken strides to ensure they are future proofing their workforce by heeding warnings of potential skills shortages across engineering and manufacturing in the near future. As such, Nifco works closely with our training partners, Middlesbrough College, to ensure we have a steady flow of the best young talent joining our award-winning apprenticeship programme. Nissan and its major suppliers like Unipres, Tallent and Calsonic Kansei do likewise.

These major automotive players have taken the lead, but more and more SMEs and smaller operators are recognising the worth of good apprentices and upskilling existing staff. In short, we are improving. In our sector, price increases do not happen, so every year we must get better – be more effective, efficient and pass on cost reductions to customers. This has helped us become streamlined as an industry, eliminating huge amounts of wasted time, energy and resource.

Our skills, our knowledge, our innovation and our incredible work ethic are all reasons to invest in the North East. But we also have an enviable quality of life, little congestion, huge (and fairly cheap) resources in development land, water and access to international markets.

For years, we have been labelled a basket case by those outside our region, who haven’t recognised the vast untapped potential that lies within our borders. We are not a problem for those in central Government to solve, we are an unrealised asset, bursting with the exact skills and industrial expertise that will keep the UK at the forefront of developing world-class, highly desirable products, of the highest quality which will help UK PLC remain competitive. Superior products, superior quality and superior productivity delivered by - and in - a superior region.