We don’t just rely on surveys and data (critical as they are) to inform our views about UK manufacturing, we aim to get out and talk to as many companies as we can about business conditions, challenges and, of course, the opportunities they face.
Last week I was in Leeds. And yesterday there was a full house at an event we hosted, in partnership with BDO, in Manchester. It was a good opportunity to test the findings of our recent Manufacturing Outlook survey, get the low down on what’s keeping manufacturers up at night and some of their thoughts on what government is up to. Here are my takeaways….
Growing, growing, grow
In line with the 2017q3 survey results for the North West, there was a positive tone to discussions about trading conditions across the variety of sectors represented.
Indeed a number of companies were riding high with double digit growth rates over the past year; with this trend projected to have some longevity going into next year. That said, growth on that scale brings its own challenges and the term ‘growing pains’ was cited more than once. Issues included securing patient capital, finding adequate premises for expansion – this seemed to be a particular issue in and around Manchester, and, of course, skills and people.
Where are all the engineers?
When it comes to what’s keeping industry awake at night – many nightmares involve finding and retaining the right people. While companies in different parts of the country trace these skills challenges back to different sources – local housing; transport; quality of life; training provision; engagement with schools – it’s clear this is a national challenge and the gaps are everywhere from apprentice applicants to graduates and beyond. Succinctly put by one company – we want to train, but there needs to be more to help, rather than penalise.
Sterling – the double-edged sword
We’ve blogged a lot about the ups and downs of sterling’s post-referendum slump. The manufacturers in the room – ranging from paper products to companies with a strong service proposition – were a good case study in the benefits and drawbacks of the low pound. Though both camps were keen for some exchange rate stability to manage their business planning. I’m afraid I wasn’t able to provide the comfort they were after on this score.
The Northern Powerhouse
And on to what manufacturers think of what government is up to – that government being the new metro mayor in Manchester. There was some impatience about when investment in new infrastructure in the Norther Powerhouse (NPH) is going to catch up to levels the South benefit from. This is tricky given the NPH doesn’t have enough tools at its disposal to get cracking with the big jobs. Companies don’t necessarily realise that a piece of legislation to introduce an infrastructure supplement was abandoned, they do understand the impact of its absence. We’ll keep up the pressure to include provisions for the Mayoral infrastructure supplement in the Finance Bill.