Logistics, manufacturing and jobs: the gift that can keep on giving

Andrew Pexton

Regional Director – North West

As we flock to buy presents, arrange travel for the winter break and put together our festive menus, I can’t help but think how the UK’s logistics sector is really put under pressure at this time of year and how it all fits together.

It’s also worth reflecting on how radically our production and supply chains have shifted over the past couple of decades – particularly so in recent years.

More globally connected than ever, the modern logistics sector is the backbone that keeps the UK’s economy together and in doing so provides the UK with over a million jobs. It’s an international market and involves a complex web of interconnected industries, manufacturers and transportation businesses – so ensuring regional specialisms in our country is vital.

The north west is well placed to capitalise on the continued momentum in this sector – accounting for 10 per cent of the UK’s GDP, the region and its expanding towns and cities rely on the supply of jobs and products that the sector delivers.

There was some essential reading in The Times last month which looked at just this. Since 2012, jobs in the logistics industry have doubled and next year are set to surpass the UK’s biggest employer, NHS England. And there are opportunities available for people from a range of backgrounds – two thirds of managers in the logistics sector don’t have a university degree, compared to less than half in the wider British economy.

The scale of job creation shows how important the logistics sector is in diversifying regional economies; it brings employment which is relatively futureproofed. We don’t know exactly what the economy of 2050 or even 2030 will look like, but it’s hard to imagine that our logistics sector won’t have a big role to play.

Of course logistics is just one piece of the puzzle – we also need products to move.

£4.5 billion of investment in manufacturing sectors was recently announced by the government, with a major focus being on the Investment Zones programme. All of this will support our country’s manufacturing skill base, build on our industrial heritage and encourage investment and regeneration in places across the north and midlands.

With the north west setting its sights for growth on manufacturing, combined with the announcement of Investment Zones around Merseyside and Greater Manchester, there’s no doubt that the region will be seeing a major boost to the sector – and we need to keep up investment in supply chains, facilities and support services.

Taking manufacturing and logistics together, there is a huge variety of associated jobs – from inventory management, to marketing, along with a big focus on data, software engineering and AI as part of the drive to modernise the industry. Processing software, management systems and apps are increasingly important across the board, and skilled jobs in these areas are growing every day.

Harworth is working with occupiers and inward investors to help keep these sectors moving. One way we can do this is through co-locating green growth industries (i.e. those that are driving innovation in areas like biotechnology and agritech), life sciences and advanced manufacturing, alongside more established logistics uses. Doing so can help de-risk development proposals and reduce overdependency on one industry (and one type of employment) within a community.

Models for large-scale commercial developments are changing all the time, and there is impressive innovation happening in the sector with great blueprints for how to do it well and sustainably.

Logistics North Aerial View

Harworth’s Logistics North in Bolton is one of the largest and most successful of its kind. With four million sq ft of employment space across 250 acres, the site has attracted global companies such as Aldi and Lidl and created 5,500 new jobs, with thousands more to come. Logistics North contributes to the sustainability of the area’s economy (2.3m people live within a 30-minute drive of the site), and is helping power Bolton’s employment growth – which is forecast to be 7.4 per cent higher than the rest of Greater Manchester over a 10 year period.

Looking to the future, the continued growth of e-commerce and the role of data centres in the AI revolution demonstrates the increasing need for creative and innovative development of commercial sites. With many data centres clustered around London and job numbers in this industry expected to boom, there is an opportunity to rebalance the sector and use the north west’s brownfield sites to meet growing demand across manufacturing, tech, green growth and distribution.

So as we look to the new year, let’s watch for the logistics transformation – here’s hoping 2024 will bring even more opportunities to communities across our region.