The chairman of a £40 million manufacturing hub in the West Midlands believes the Government has given the region an opportunity to put itself at the centre of advanced production.
Against a backdrop of unprecedented spending cuts, the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), in Warwickshire, has been shielded because of its key position as a potential driver of wealth.
Former Land Rover managing director Terry Morgan, who has been named chairman of the centre, said the Government had indicated it would back manufacturing and technology, rather than continuing a fascination with professional services.
Mr Morgan laughed off reports the new centre would compete with the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), founded by former tutor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, but said both had an opportunity to help make the region a hub for manufacturing excellence.
He said: “I took two things from the comprehensive spending review. Everyone talks about the cuts but I am really pleased that the Government made decisions that it would continue to invest in infrastructure.
“It also created an emphasis on the importance of technology and if we are going to create an economy with growth potential we are going to need a larger reach than financial services.”
He added: “I want the Midlands to be a catalyst so if someone in Scotland has a problem they come to Ansty to see what can be done and develop solutions. That is what Sheffield has been able to do and it’s an opportunity for the Midlands.”
The MTC, based at Ansty Park, aims to be a world-class facility offering a collaboration between academia, research organisations and industry.
The centre was deemed oo key to plans for the region that it was one of six projects ring-fenced from Government-enforced cuts to the Advantage West Midlands budget.
Mr Morgan, who is also chairman of £15 billion initiative Crossrail – the biggest transport infrastructure scheme in the UK since the Channel Tunnel rail link – said the 1.5 million sq ft MTC was in demand from firms in the region.
He said: “Manufacturers for many years have talked about a lack of investment and links with unversities developing very good ideas.
“People often talk about other economies which are seen as doing this.
“There is going to be a very big facility but the big question is ‘are we going to be big and brave enough to make this a benchmark for advanced manufacturing and the linkage between the world of academia and manufacturing excellence.
“I would say the Government has given the West Midlands an opportunity and we need to make something of it.”
Airbus, AEC and Rolls-Royce and a list of more than 80 firms have expressed an interest in being involved with the centre, along with universities in Birmingham, Loughbrough, Nottingham.
Meanwhile, Midland car giant Jaguar Land Rover’s owner Tata Motors has signed up to spend £100 million on research at the International Digital Laboratory, which is part of WMG.
That move had led to the MTC being described as a “white elephant” but Mr Morgan said there had been a lot of demand for the centre, and the two centres are not in competition.
“There will be no winners if this isn’t successful. There is a huge opportunity and my concern is missing it,” he said.
The Ansty operation is set to be headed by Clive Hickman – the former head of Tata’s Technology Centre at the University of Warwick which is separate to WMG – he is being joined on the board by Alex Stephenson, first chairman of AWM and brother of the Phoenix Four’s Nick Stephenson.
After trading the valleys of South Wales for Birmingham’s automotive sector as a young engineer, the region’s manufacturing industry has remained close to Terry Morgan’s heart.
Mr Morgan, who lives in Solihull, left school at the age of 16 and became an apprentice with Lucas Girling – and moved to the West Midlands to work at the firm’s Tyseley headquarters.
Spells at Leyland Vehicles and British Aerospace and a masters degree in engineering at Birmingham University – tutored by Warwick Manufacturing Group founder and Post columnist Kumar Bhattacharyya – led him to Land Rover between 1985 and 1995, where he rose to the position of managing director, and oversaw the development of marques the company is still benefiting from.
He said: “I had 10 fantastic years there and in that time we launched the Discovery and the last thing I did before I left was get approval for the Freelander.”
Mr Morgan’s tenure with Land Rover came to an end when the company was sold to BMW in 1995 and he stayed with British Aerospace.
He later ran Royal Ordnance then became operations director and moved to London Underground upgrade firm Tube Lines in January 2002 – which ultimately led to his becoming the chair of Crossrail.
He explained it was an interesting time to work for the firm, with the development of successful marques while operating under the eyes of the Government, which had a stake in the company through British Aerospace.
He said: “When I first joined Land Rover it was in very deep problems and we managed to turn it around. I don’t claim any credit for that, I was just part of a team.
“There were iconic vehicles but not fit for purpose and the then managing director basically took the Land Rover and added lots of additional features like air-conditioning, heated seats, sun roofs and electric seats and found there was an insatiable appetite for the features, and it was from there that the Discovery was developed.
“It was a hybrid from the Land Rover and Range Rover.
‘‘There was some very innovative approaches by the product development team – which had to be done at a cost that didn’t attract Margeret Thatcher’s attention.”
However, he still speaks passionately about his time with the Gaydon giant and said it left an indelible mark on his life.
He explained: “I still live in Solihull and I still own a Range Rover.
“I have owned a Range Rover for 25 years and I can’t imagine not having one on my drive.”