Small to medium-sized manufacturers in the UK have remained resilient in the wake of Brexit uncertainty, with more than half (57%) of firms recording an increase in sales during the past six months.
The National Manufacturing Barometer, conducted by SWMAS Group in partnership with Economic Growth Solutions (EGS), also found strong optimism for growth, with two-thirds of SME manufacturers expecting sales to grow again during the first half of 2017.
Senior decision-makers from 270 companies across the country provided an insight into life on the shopfloor as part of this latest report. Half of those questioned revealed that they plan to invest in new capital equipment and technology going forward, while almost the same amount (46%) plan to increase their workforce to cope with demand.
Another key finding is that a surprising 42% of respondents say that don’t know whether the government’s Industrial Strategy is built to deliver their business needs, clearly showing there is a lack of visibility and understanding among SME manufacturers.
Managing director of SWMAS Group, Simon Howes commented: “There has been a lot of talk about uncertainty around the impact of Brexit and the possible impact it could have on manufacturing, which makes the positive results from the latest Barometer very welcome.
“A 9% surge in the number of SMEs reporting an increase in sales from the previous Barometer shows that orders are still being placed and, anecdotally, there is evidence of a spike in exports due to the fall in sterling. This is something we plan to look at in more depth in future reports.”
Howes continued: “Encouragingly, there appears to still be a strong appetite to invest in technology and people to drive growth and productivity and that is something that could prove crucial if our SMEs are going to fulfil their aspirations.”
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The Industrial Strategy was the special focus of the National Barometer and it revealed that the majority of SME manufacturers were not convinced the government had yet delivered a vision that matched their requirements.
Just 17% of respondents agreed that the direction of the industrial strategy would work, which highlights the need for much better engagement with SMEs and stronger communication about the plan and what it involves. When asked what should be the main focus for the Industrial Strategy, R&D and Productivity were high on the priority list, closely followed by access to growth opportunities within the UK, export and operational skills.
CEO of Economic Growth Solutions and the recently launched Manufacturing Growth Programme, Lorraine Holmes explained: “Our SMEs are giving a strong message to government. They need to feel that the new strategy reflects their aspirations and will support them in making the most of new opportunities and overcoming some of the challenges they are and will continue to face.
“The budget – with additional money for disruptive technology and new T-Levels to boost technical skills – showed there is an appetite to support manufacturing and we’d urge government to listen to SMEs as we move forward.”