The locally embedded branch plant? : a study of linkage change in the northern region of England
The post-war history of the older industrial regions of Britain has been one of the deficiencies of branch plant led economic development. The various deficiencies of these 'branch plant economies' are seen to derive from the integration of manufacturing industry into wider intra- and inter-corporate spatial divisions of labour. Such an entrenched understanding of the 'branch plant economy' has come into question as a result of recent theoretical and empirical work identifying changing intra- and inter-firm divisions of labour as part of contemporary industrial restructuring. This latter work identifies the role of fragmenting marked demand and the deployment of 'flexible' process technology in engendering a re-synthesis of the technical and managerial divisions of labour within large corporations and hence the formation of more localised patterns of backward linkages. This thesis re-examines the nature of the 'branch plant economy' in the light of these recent findings. It concentrates upon one aspect of contemporary change in the branch plant economy - namely contemporary changes in the degree of local embeddedness, in terms of spatial patterns of backward material linkages, of manufacturing industry in older industrial regions. The thesis provides a case study of material linkage change within one older industrial region in the U.K.; the Northern Region of England. Data from a postal survey provides evidence of the extent of externalisation and localisation of backward linkages. Company case studies explore the role of changing technologies, market demand and corporate structures and strategies in the precise forms of linkage change in the Northern Region. Despite the presence of processes of externalisation and material linkage change more generally, Northern Region manufacturing industry does not display signs of becoming more locally embedded. The dominant forms of linkage change - externalisation and linkage proliferation - underlying the formation of 'flexible production systems' are not the dominant forms of linkage change within the peripheral region setting. Rather, a process of linkage simplification is one important manifestation of the continued integration of the region's manufacturing industry into an increasingly international spatial division of labour.