The United Kingdom is one of the most highly industrialized countries in the world. The industrial sector of the economy declined in relative importance after 1973, because of the worldwide economic slowdown; however, output rose in 1983 and 1984 and in 1985 was growing at an annual rate of 3%. Manufacturing accounted for 25.1% of GDP in 1985 and 22.3% in 1992. Since World War II, some traditional industries have markedly declined—e.g., cotton textiles, steel, shipbuilding, locomotives—and their place has been taken by newer industries, such as electronics, offshore oil and gas products, and synthetic fibers. In the chemicals industry, plastics and pharmaceuticals have registered the most significant growth. The United Kingdom had a total of 11 oil refineries in 2002, with a capacity of 1,784,000 barrels per day.
The pattern of ownership, organization, and control of industry is varied; public, private, and cooperative enterprises are all important. The public sector plays a significant role; however, since 1979 the government has sold off a number of companies and most manufacturing is conducted by private enterprise. Although the average firm is still fairly small, there has been a trend in recent years toward the creation of larger enterprises.
Metals, engineering, and allied industries—including steel, nonferrous metals, vehicles, and machinery—employ nearly half of all workers in manufacturing. The United Kingdom's automotive industry produced 1,685,238 automobiles in 2001, a 7% decline from 2000. It also produced 14,682 heavy trucks in 2000, a 10% increase over 1999. Britain's aerospace industry is among the world's foremost. Rolls-Royce, which was privatized in 1987, is one of the principal aero-engine manufacturers in the world. British Aerospace, nationalized during 1978–80 but now privately owned again, manufactures civil aircraft, such military aircraft as the Harrier and the Hawk advanced trainer, and guided weapons, including the Rapier ground-to-air missile.
While the relative importance of the textile and clothing industries has declined considerably since World War II, the United Kingdom continues to produce high-quality woolen textiles. Certain smaller industries are noted for the quality of their craftsmanship—e.g., pottery, jewelry, goldware, and silverware. Other sectors are the cement industry (which focuses on the manufacture of Portland cement, a British invention); the rubber industry, the world's oldest; paper industries; and leather and footwear. The industrial sector's 25% share of GDP in 2000 continues to demonstrate the importance of industry to the development of the British economy. The industrial production growth rate declined in 2001, however, by 1.6%. Two factors leading to the decline in British industrial production in the early 2000s were the global recession that began in 2001, and the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the United Kingdom that year. In 2001, demand for telecommunications equipment fell, which led to large manufacturing job losses in this sector.