Video: Lord Sugar addresses business leaders

BUSINESS big-hitter Lord Alan Sugar said restoring manufacturing in the UK was about "instilling a certain mentality" as he addressed East of England entrepreneurs.

Sarah Chambers

BUSINESS big-hitter Lord Alan Sugar said restoring manufacturing in the UK was about "instilling a certain mentality" as he addressed East of England entrepreneurs today.

Speaking to a packed room of the region's business leaders at the East of England Development Agency's Destination Growth conference at Duxford, the star of hit TV show The Apprentice and business adviser to the Government questioned whether it was inevitable that manufacturing should all go to cheap labour countries such as in Asia.

"I think that the most important thing is being realistic about what we can and can't manufacture here any more," he told a question-and-answer audience made up of a selection of the region's small to medium business entrepreneurs.

Short production runs were still possible here, he pointed out.

"Anything high volume and mass market you have had it.”

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He questioned why manufacturing was not taking place in the UK as before when the factories in Asia were often hi-tech and run with a relatively small workforce.

"You see a minimum of people on the factory floor and you think why couldn't that factory be in Suffolk or in Renfrew in Scotland?"

Korea, which he visited 20 or 25 year ago, had grown to be a manufacturing giant. But he did not believe this was down to cheap labour alone.

"It's the ethos of the people. It's more their mentality. It's their desire, that want to better themselves," he said.

"It's not necessarily how do we instill manufacturing in this country, it's instilling a certain mentality."

He was critical of the fashion among young people to want to be in the media rather than in engineering or other other industrial trades.

"That's what's in their heads at the moment," he said. "The problem is directing people to engineering and directing people to sales."

Talking of the Amstrad business empire he used to own, he pointed to the migration of manufacturing to the Asiatic countries.

"It sickens me to think about we did have that and the whole lot went to Korea or China or somewhere like that."

The banks he had used in his early days in business had been a good training ground for him and their simple criteria was "a brilliant discipline" he said.

"I started my business in so-called recessionary times in 1967 where the thought of going to a bank and asking for money to finance you was off the radar, and actually the thought of going to my rich uncle was off the radar as well," he said.

"All my money came from organic growth without any loans whatsoever and it was not until the late 1970s that I had the business of such a size that required letter of credit."

Moving on 25 years you came into this "era of lunacy", he said, where banks loaned out large sums and people had "grown to expect that's what's banking's about". Now they were returning to what he believed "banking should have been".

"Those people not getting positive vibes from their banks at the moment really need to go into their bedroom at night and look in the mirror and understand the reason," he said. "The reason is their business isn't sound."

Some of those complaining about not getting money from the banks, he would not lend to either, he said.

"I don't want to hear any more about this general bankers not doing this. Give me some facts," he said.

He advised businesses, however big or small, to carry out regular "health checks" on themselves.

"I know it sounds pathetic, but when I started my business, I set myself a target of making �60 a week," he said.

"I would look week on week and see why I didn't do that and why I did do it. why I didn't do it taught me not to waste my time."