Opening the doors of the factory to the gaze of competitors does not come easily to manufacturers, particularly not to small producers. Except in Italy, that is, where the networks of competing firms in small towns - most notably in the Emilia-Romagna region - are widely believed to underpin the success of Italian shoes, textiles, ceramics. But such networks don't transplant easily. Governments in the US, Denmark and Portugal have all tried to recreate them, with no more success than sundry British initiatives. Nevertheless, openness - Italian style - could be catching on in the UK.
In the North-West, the Consortium of Lancashire Aerospace has 136 corporate members, from British Aerospace to tiny component suppliers, and plans a long-term strategy for the industry in the area. Joint bidding, marketing and training are on the agenda. Dennis Mendoros, one of the prime-movers in the CLA and managing director of Euravia, which repairs and overhauls aero-engines at Earby, claims that, 'We're unique in Europe'. In aerospace, perhaps. But the venture still has to prove its worth.
The North Lancashire Training Group is an entirely separate association which evolved from the former training board for the furniture industry.