SME Growth Summit 2021 – Day 2 Round-up

A key focus on day two of the SME Growth Summit was the challenges currently facing manufacturers, of which there are many. The ongoing pandemic and continued uncertainty surrounding Brexit are two issues that have been front and centre for many organisations, however, how do manufacturers ensure that they will be in the best possible position when the dust settles?

This afternoon’s session was chaired by Chris Walker, International Trade Policy, Federation of Small Business who shared some positive statistics on SME growth over the past 12 months.

Walker explained: “According to our research, over 16% of SMEs developed or designed a new product over the last 12 months, despite obvious challenges. 10% of businesses diversified their product range into new products and 24% increased their use of digital technology.

“Our research also suggests that if the global trade system could go digital then generate $25bn of additional trade worldwide. Currently, the trade system is largely paper-based and many goods that are exported still rely on certificates of origin whilst moving from one country to another.”

In his keynote on the afternoon of day two, John Pearce, CEO, Made In Britain, discussed evolution and growth in the post-Brexit, post-pandemic economy. In addition to the obvious challenges and hurdles, John also highlighted the opportunities for SME growth and innovation as British manufacturing enters a new era.

He also shone a light on some of the experiences of Made in Britain member companies, which have found innovative ways to grow and evolve against the backdrop of a swiftly-changing economic landscape, post-Brexit and post-pandemic.

“Just as SMEs are the beating heart of the British economy, they now make up 99% of the businesses in this country and they make up the vast majority of our membership at Made in Britain. Over the last year we’ve been growing at our fastest ever rate as manufacturers seek to capitalise on the rising demand for goods made in this country post-pandemic and post-Brexit.

“As the UK has slowly been returning to normal over the past few months, I’ve spoken to dozens of our members whose order books are bursting, with instances of demand far outstripping supply.

“More recently conversations have been dominated by supply chain disruptions, rising shipping costs, driver shortages and the list goes on. All of which has affected multiple business sectors, up and down the country. This on-going logistics crisis is just the latest in a series of extraordinary challenges for SME manufacturers already weathering the storms of Brexit, as well as all the other unprecedented limitations and restrictions of many COVID-19 lockdowns.

“One of the positives to be gained following more than a year and a half of uncertainty, is being compelled to look at what we actually do make here in Britain. Our research shows that the majority of both consumers and SMEs are now more likely to buy British goods than before the pandemic, eight in 10 businesses and consumers would happily pay more for products made in this country, while two fifths of consumers and two fifths of businesses would prefer to buy British regardless of the cost. Britain’s manufacturing sector has a long held reputation for quality, reliability and innovation.”

The rollout of digital manufacturing and the transition to Industry 4.0 is continuing, and as such, this greater level of connectivity has marked a new level of complexity for manufacturers in the context of cyber security.

Cyber security is increasingly key to the resilience of businesses across all sectors of the economy. As manufacturers become ever-more connected in order to take advantage of the significant benefits of digitalisation, they also need to be aware of the importance of implementing effective cyber security mitigations to protect their networks from harm.

A senior speaker from the National Cyber Security Centre outlined the cyber threat landscape with regards to manufacturers and crucially, the measures SMEs in the manufacturing sector can take to boost their cyber resilience.

The new National Cyber Strategy provides a vision for the UK as a responsible, democratic cyber power and is structured around five priority actions:

  • Strengthening the UK’s cyber ecosystem
  • Building a resilient and prosperous digital UK
  • Taking the lead in the technologies vital to cyber power
  • Advancing UK global leadership and influence to promote a free, open, peaceful and secure cyber space
  • Detecting, disrupting and deterring our adversaries

The senior speaker from the National Cyber Security Centre shared how SMEs can mitigate malware and ransomware attacks: “Make sure to do regular backups, prevent malware from spreading to devices as well as preventing malware from running on devices and always prepare for an incident.”

So, while manufacturing is faced with a multitude of challenges it also holds the key to solving them through greater use of technology and innovation. It is vital therefore, that there is help and support available.

Manufacturing is a crucial part of the UK economy, driving innovation, exports and well-paid jobs. In the final keynote of day two of the SME Growth Summit, Matthew Ellis, Assistant Director, Made Smarter, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), set out the government’s approach to working with the sector, covered key policies that support manufacturing and highlighted opportunities for manufacturers to engage with them.

Ellis explained: “Manufacturing accounts for 15% of UK GHG emissions so achieving Net Zero by 2050 means the rate of manufacturing emissions reductions will need to be three times faster across key manufacturing sectors than at present.

“This will be a significant challenge for the majority of micro and SME manufacturing firms. Feedback from trade bodies is that firms are unsure how to reduce emissions and barriers include finance and know-how challenges.”