UK manufacturing sector climbs to eighth in world

The UK’s manufacturing sector has climbed one place to eighth in the world rankings, overtaking France in the process according to analysis of the latest official data published by Make UK(1).

The figures are contained in the latest annual ‘Manufacturing – The Facts’ which contains a wide variety of data about the contribution of manufacturing to the economy including exports, sectoral breakdown, how the UK compares to other nations and salary levels.

The data shows that in 2021 UK (the latest year for which global comparisons are available) UK manufacturing output was worth some $272bn, compared to $262bn for France, but behind Italy ($314bn). To put this data in context, China is the largest manufacturing nation worth $4.9tn, followed by the United States $2.5tn and Japan $995bn. Germany, the fourth highest, remains the largest European manufacturing country $803bn.

According to Make UK while the climb up the rankings is encouraging, it strongly cautioned that it is only the third time since 2002 that the UK has ranked above France and cannot be attributed to any post Brexit bounce or other specific factor. 

Separate data for 2022 from the ONS places UK manufacturing output at £224bn and Make UK believes that, if the Government commits to its call for a manufacturing target of 15% of GDP, (which Make UK estimates would add £142bn to the UK economy) then the sector could aim to match seventh ranked Italy.

With many competitor nations having their own versions of an Industrial Strategy, Make UK has also repeated its calls for a long-term, modern, and robust Strategy which could help turn the 15% ambition into a reality.

The analysis of official data also shows that the United States remains the dominant export market for UK goods (2) worth £56.7bn in 2022. While Germany has lost its place as the second highest destination (£33.3bn) having been overtaken by The Netherlands (£37bn), Make UK cautioned that trade with the Netherlands could be inflated artificially by goods being routed through Rotterdam for onward travel to other destinations.

Ireland is the fourth largest export market (£30.3bn) with six of the top ten export markets being in the EU. Together they are worth approximately £150bn, almost three times the exports to the US and around four times the amount to China. According to Make UK, this highlights the continued importance of the EU for UK goods and the need to smooth out trade barriers with what remains overwhelmingly its dominant market.

By sector, food and drink is the biggest exporter, sending 12.4% of manufactured goods abroad in 2022, while the sector also grew exports by almost a quarter (23%) compared to 2021. Aerospace and Transport increased its exports in the same period by 27.9%, highlighting its importance to high value manufacturing and the economy overall.

The analysis by Make UK also shows that, contrary to popular opinion, manufacturing jobs are better paid than both services and the economy overall. According to official data (3) the average salary in manufacturing in 2022 was £36,488, which compares to £33,402 for the economy overall and £32,676 for services.

The North West remains the biggest manufacturing area of the UK, worth £28.2bn in output and employing 314,000 people. The sector accounts for almost 15% of North West economic output and 8% of regional employment. Wales has the highest share of manufacturing with the sector accounting for almost a fifth (17.3%) of the Welsh economy. This compares to just under 10% national average.

Key findings:

  • Latest global data places the UK eighth in the world rankings in 2021
  • Separate data values UK manufacturing output at £224bn in 2022
  • Six of the top ten export markets for UK goods remain in the EU
  • Aerospace & Transport sees largest growth in exports
  • Average salary in manufacturing almost 10% higher than the economy average
  • North West the biggest manufacturing region by output, Wales the highest share of manufacturing

1. Source UNCTAD 2021 data
2. Source UK Trade ONS 2023
3. Source ONS 2022

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