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1987 May 1 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

Speech opening Confederation of British Industry Design Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Speech
Venue: Centre Point, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: MT was due to arrive at 1000 and be back at No.10 by 1200.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 2295
Themes: Arts & entertainment, Industry, Trade

A week in which you have all produced an excellent CBI survey, when your survey reports optimism, good orders, good prospects for the future and a new confidence; the like of which we have not seen for a very long time: so I congratulate you on your choice of this day for your conference and may I say how grateful I am to you for inviting me to it on this occasion.

Of course we are delighted at this new confidence. We are delighted at your new profits. We are delighted at your achievements and I think it may have something to do with Government—I think it has—I think it has even more to do with industry but I think above all, it has to do with getting the separate roles of Government and industry and commerce right; and that, I believe is what we have been able to do. It is the Government's job to do the sound financial background which enables you to plan with confidence. It is the Government's job to get the right framework of regulations and laws within which you can operate successfully and competitively. It is the Government's job to evolve a tax system which gives incentives for extra effort and which enables smaller businesses to grow to larger ones and which enables them the better to be passed on intact for future generations. All of that we have tried to do and believe have succeeded in doing. It is then industry's job to ask of industry and commerce to get itself [end p1] competitive and I think perhaps we have enabled you to get yourselves competitive by some of our trade union reforms—the right background of legislation; they are working very well. Get yourselves competitive by a return of good management and I must say that I do place very great store by that. We went through a period, during my time in politics, not during my time in Government but during my time in politics, when it seemed as if so much was taken out of the hands of management by various tripartite arrangements between the big CBI, the big TUC, and the big Government and in fact management did not have the decisions to take. We did not therefore get the right response, we did not, therefore, get the right initiative, we did not get the the right … and I think the return of management has been one of the great achievements of the past eight years so you have got yourselves competitive by the return of good management. By great attention to peem [sic], by good investment, which I see is going better now; investment not only in new processes, not only in innovation but investment also in research and development and above all—as you said Mr President—by the right products.

My point about getting your role right and our role right is this:

Governments cannot and should not attempt to run industry and if many of the people in Parliament could do it, that is where they would be. It is not our role to do it. It is not our role to try to make it impossible for you to operate competitively in the great markets of the world because it is no good just thinking only in terms of our own country; in trade the world has to be our market-place and indeed our parish. So I believe that we have got this [end p2] relationship right, and yet you ask me to launch this rather startling title: Design or Decline! and yet—as you said Mr President—it is an absolutely right title for how often in our history have we seen this Government [sic] produce the first range of products? First we did the research; we are very good at research. We often led the way with the first range of products from great new airliners, from computers to so many things on which we led the way: from nuclear power stations, only to see the ideas from our research suddenly redesigned and repackaged by others who perhaps gave more attention to the markets. Because they have given attention to the design and knew their markets, we did the work and they made the profits, and so yes, ‘Design or Decline’ is absolutely the right title and we know that the right approach will bring more business in overseas markets but also that is not only what we are after.

We are after—by virtue of performance—a greater share in our own market in this country; not—as you said Mr President—by any kind of nostalgia of buying British—people do not do that out of nostalgia. Having been the centre of a great empire we are used to having goods from all over the world to choose from and our consumers are very discerning. Our buyers are very discerning and they are only going to buy a greater proportion of British goods provided we have the right design and the right things.

I have visited a number of exhibitions recently. I went to one—opened it—one called “Better made in Britain” . It was an exhibition of imported goods which those who launched the exhibition felt that we could make here, make every bit as well and not only make but have the advantage of a resupply if things got short; a resupply could be made more quickly here than from countries way [end p3] overseas and it was wonderful to see our own manufacturers going round that exhibition of imported goods with the resolve that they would make the goods and see if we could get a bigger proportion of our home business. Then a few days ago I went to another exhibition held at a design centre—Simon Hornby and I meet quite a lot these days; we know one another's features quite well—there was not a lot new that you can say but indeed if you get over some of the old messages and do it successfully then we feel that we will be having a great success. I went to an exhibition at the design centre called “Better made in the Countryside” . I saw marvellous examples of design there, and of course in the countryside now you can have more industry than you used to do, because I need hardly tell you industry is no longer a clanking business of enormously expensive and heavy equipment—much of it is much smaller, much more push-button and therefore more opportunities in the countryside. In that exhibition were some of the typical craft industries, some of the new electronics, all excellent design; I cannot praise it too highly, and as I went round talking to the people, I found that they were doing very well in overseas markets. It was extremely interesting: a lot of small businesses doing extremely well in overseas markets, and then some of them turned and said to me, “But you know it is much more difficult to persuade some of our buying organisations, including those in the public sector, Mrs Thatcher, some of the buying organisations in the public sector here to know our products and to buy them” , and that too, we have enormous opportunities here. As I sometimes say, not only within the Civil Service, but within things like the National Health Service, we have an enormous purchasing base and if we get the right design here, it [end p4] really gives us the possibility of spreading overheads so that we should, in many cases, be able to take a good deal more business abroad. But we have to have the good base here as well. That was a very, very encouraging exhibition and I would like to thank those of you who are vigorously looking round at the products which are produced here, going to the manufacturers and saying “We will buy this if you can get the design, the price and the quality right” and I believe you can do it and I believe that we have got quite a number of new factories going in the north because some of you have been very perceptive in helping in that way.

Now obviously I am interested in you making profits. If you make profits then we have something to tax in order to help the National Health Service, education, and so on, and frequently I have to get the message across: there are far too many politicians who assume that someone else makes the money for them to distribute. If you want to distribute any, you have got to make jolly certain that someone has the conditions under which it can be made first. Yes, so one of the things that has given me enormous pleasure is to see the rate at which your profits are rising, but I know, having been born and bred in business, when they are good you are worried whether you are going to be able to keep them up next year, when they are not good you are worried anyway, so I think it is very good we have this …, we have this confidence and we just once again analyse the factors which make for success and it would be my thesis that design is among the very best for the simple reason that people will not give a second look at your products and examine them carefully unless the design is such which it attracts immediately; attracts visually, and then the second look to see that it attracts [end p5] functionally and then you go on to other things and possibly become a buyer.

Another exhibition I opened at the design centre recently was called “Young Creators” ; their design was superb and I saw many things there that I would have purchased had they already been in production and I think that our young creators now are designing very well for business and there is a much closer relationship between business and the articles and the technical schools and the polytechnics. Now it is all augering very well indeed. It has contributed the excellent design to the greater revival of textiles which we are witnessing in this country and it is very, very welcome indeed.

So good design I would put first among the reasons for profits and success.

The second, I think, is a competitive price. Years ago when I was Secretary of State for Education, I set up a number of councils which managed to include a number of entrepreneurs with the designers, with the technical schools. Because we had found at first, though our art schools were good on design, that they were not always taught to design to a price and it seemed to me that the success of capitalism—and the only way in which it can succeed—is by bringing the good design which used to be ordered by the few to the products sold to the masses and for that we have to get mass produced good design down to a price—and I do again congratulate, not only industry, but the many technical schools and polytechnics for the way in which we are increasingly working together to design with commerce in mind, and in some of those courses on good design, to include courses on business management and accountancy and stock [end p6] control and everything which goes to make a competitive price—and I think our young people are working very well in industry and doing extremely well.

The third thing, as I indicated, I have always put good business management. We did not have the opportunity in the last decade. The last decade was a bad decade for Britain; a lot of things went wrong and part of the purpose of this Government has been to put them right and we do have very good business management.

And the next one is excellent quality. Now we are running a national quality campaign following on our design campaign because again so many buyers—particularly people who buy components and semi-fabricated things in this country—so many of them say to me—in the seminars to which you very kindly referred and which some of you may have attended in Downing Street— “Look, we have got to look at the quality” . It may be the first look is design, it may be the second look is price, but the reason which enables you, having started out on a successful product, the reason which enables you to continue to maintain a successful company is reliability that the quality will continue to be excellent as well as the price right, so in addition to running help for young designers, we are also running a campaign—a national quality campaign—which includes help for firms to find expert advice on improving their quality programmes.

Of course no analysis would be complete without some reference to marketing because a number of the products I see will be more successful if the people knew how to market them properly, and some of them seem to think that marketing is a thing which you either have by nature or you have not. Well, some people have got it—they are jolly lucky. A lot of the people who are very successful [end p7] in life are not those who are particularly successful at school but they have something about marketing. They know what the public wants, they know how to market it, and they have just got everything right. But you know we are in an age where marketing can be taught and it can be learned. It is getting more technical; it can be taught and it can be learned, and we too are giving attention to that in the business schools and in the courses that the polytechnics are producing up and down the country.

All of these things are needed but they will start with the subject of today's conference: good design. Yes, some other countries have excelled but so have we and it is marvellous now, as we go abroad, and as other people come here, to see the new respect they have for industry and commerce and services in Britain. They have. We have a new confidence here and we have a new respect abroad.

Our investment is paying off and you are achieving real progress and today's conference is about maintaining and increasing that momentum. You put your finger on it, Mr President, because we have spoken about this so often; it is not only necessary to have the right products today, it is necessary, particularly when we have some of the excellent workforces we have now—because we have a loyalty to them as well as their loyalty to us—to see that management, research, innovation, development is producing the products which we shall be selling at the end of this century and in doing the research and development into the products at the beginning of the next.

It is our purpose, therefore, to even improve our performance. Others who are competing with us are improving theirs, [end p8] so improvement on its own is not enough; we have to improve faster than our rivals. We need the continued commitment at top management to make these things happen. As Government we have tried to do: to set the framework, we have tried to have special design programmes to help those who cannot afford to employ designers, we have the campaigns on quality, we have a very good budget from year to year which I hope you will prove this one this year and we shall continue to do our part and we wish you well in the spirit of new found confidence in our country; people like to feel pride in their country, they like to feel confidence in their country. We have both now. We must maintain and increase it into the future. I wish you all great success. If you succeed, I think it might have quite an effect on my chances too.