Back in 2010, as the country worked to pull itself out of the teeth of the financial crisis, UK businesses were facing a bumpy ride. Output growth was weak and expected to stagnate in the face of weak global and domestic demand. Global forecasters were predicting a 1930s-style slump. Doom-laden daily headlines meant confidence was low. A key challenge was to find a route back to a more confident, more resilient manufacturing future.
The Government of the day decided part of its response must be action to address the UK’s long-standing failure to translate the knowledge flowing from its world-leading research base into economic benefit. It saw a golden opportunity to change the tune by creating a network of ‘Catapult Centres’ which would connect businesses with the UK’s research and academic communities and de-risk the investments innovation hungry firms needed to make to translate great research into the market-leading goods and services that would help rebuild Britain’s economy.
The High Value Manufacturing Catapult was the first of the new Catapult Centres. A not-for-profit organisation dedicated to helping firms turn great ideas into reality using the very latest research, it brought together 7 existing UK technology Centres who saw that, by working together, they could deliver more for UK manufacturers. In 2012 I was privileged to be appointed as its first Chief Executive. After many years in very commercial businesses, the Catapult struck me as a transformational solution to a problem I had been living with for most of my industrial career: our apparent inability fully to harness and translate the UK’s scientific excellence and instinct for invention into the manufacturing value-add that would boost prosperity. As Chief Executive I would have an opportunity to do something to change that.
Looking back now, as I prepare to retire from the Catapult later this year, I’m proud to say that I think we have succeeded. Since its inception, thanks to some amazing leaders and technologists across our Centres, the HVM Catapult has established itself as the ‘go to’ place for advanced manufacturing technology in the UK. It has worked on many thousands of projects, with many thousands of firms of all sizes and has developed a global reputation for excellence. The impact of its work is outstanding. HVM Catapult Centres have not only made a difference to the bottom lines of the individual firms they’ve worked with they’ve also played a major role in developing the technologies needed to address some of the country’s greatest challenges like climate change or mobility. At a more local level the Catapult has also served as a magnet for global investors looking to set up operations close to our Centres, creating good quality jobs and regenerating communities.
I came to the Catapult with a desire to plough something back into an industry which had fed and clothed me for so long. To have been given the chance to help to lift manufacturing in the UK to new heights and to have been a part in the delivery of significant new economic wealth creation projects, has been a rare and deep privilege. For a British engineer, my time with the HVM Catapult has been as good as it gets.
Dick Elsy, CBE, Chief Executive, High Value Manufacturing Catapult