Supply chain support and longer-term assistance are at the top of the wish list for UK manufacturing SMEs if they are to make the most of the post-pandemic recovery and the long-anticipated UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
Over three quarters of the 335 firms questioned by the Manufacturing Growth Programme (MGP) in its latest report indicated that supply chain improvement would make them more profitable, while grants to help them buy new equipment and invest in new technologies to support digitalisation would make the biggest difference to their ongoing performance.
The survey – the largest ever undertaken on the future of industrial business support – showed that management teams wanted access to specialist external advice and funding to drive profitability (68%), increase sales (62%) and to boost productivity (58%).
75% felt that leadership and management training is beneficial, whilst 83% said they wanted business support to be delivered by experts with significant industry experience, such as the MGP Growth Managers.
Unsurprisingly considering the growing environmental agenda, just over a quarter said they want to use assistance to help them move towards Net Zero to meet new sustainability targets and make the most of the green economy.
“We are operating in unique times, with companies looking to recover from the aftereffects of the pandemic but against a volatile backdrop of supply chain disruption and rising inflationary pressures. It is critical that Manufacturing bosses continue to receive specialist support to rebuild their growth strategies,” explained Dean Barnes, Regional Director of the Manufacturing Growth Programme.
“Manufacturing is responsible for 10% of national GDP and still accounts for half of the UK’s goods exported and nearly two thirds of all R&D activity in this country. These reasons alone mean we need to understand what industry wants and needs to grow.”
He continued: “The report clearly underlines some common themes and the need for assistance to be longer-term to deliver the most benefit and, importantly, for in-depth supply chain support alongside more grants to be available to spend on capital purchases.
“These are important messages to be sending out to Government as they look to reshape the business support landscape.”
The recent Levelling Up White Paper released earlier this year laid out plans to ensure that manufacturers, from across all sub-sectors, are automating, decarbonising and building resilience by 2030.
This will be achieved by maximising existing spending and non-spending policy levers and strategic investments to attract, anchor and grow supply chains, working closely with local leaders, industry and academia.
The Manufacturing Growth Programme continues to contribute to achieving this strategic vision.
Funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and delivered by Oxford Innovation Advice, the initiative was launched in 2016 to create a targeted service to support manufacturing SMEs by delivering business improvement projects in strategic planning, productivity and process improvement, competitiveness, innovation and leadership and management.
It has assisted more than 4000 companies to date, providing over £12m of grants and helping to create or safeguard 9200+ jobs, with nearly £20m of private sector investment also leveraged.
Digital marketing and e-commerce, productivity strategies, quality standards, business and growth plans and new product development have been the most popular forms of help.
“Levelling up is one of the Government’s key commitments and MGP has been doing exactly that since 2016, with more support and activity undertaken in transitional regions across the country to help them ‘level up’ against the more developed areas outside of London,” added Jane Galsworthy, Managing Director of Oxford Innovation Advice.
“We have given the powers that be a blueprint for how they deliver industry-specific support that tackles low levels of productivity, failure of SMEs to seek assistance and lack of innovation in our smaller manufacturers.
She went on to add: “With funding due to change, it’s now time for Government to build on this good work, whilst also listening to what firms are telling us – most noticeably to make it easier to access capital grants and for the support to be longer-term and strategic.”
Like many businesses, The Manufacturing Growth Programme had to pivot during the pandemic, developing a ‘Crisis Management Framework’ as an engagement tool for SMEs.
This meant that firms knew the route to market to access essential support during Covid-19 and this helped them make the necessary changes and business strategy adaptations to remain operational and in a good position to maximise the recovery.
Jane concluded: “We’re at an exciting stage of development with the race for electrification gathering pace and digital manufacturing starting to play a bigger role in industry. Now is the time to help SMEs join this journey and contribute to the Government’s overarching ‘levelling up’ agenda.”