Made in Group members voice their concerns about the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak

As the voice of Midlands Manufacturing, the Made in Group has been asking members for their view in order to create a unified message that can be used to lobby government for support of the manufacturing industry during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Over the course of this week, Made in Group members, from both the Midlands and Yorkshire have been expressing their views about the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak, and the impact it’s having on the manufacturing sector.

Through an online survey, members have been quizzed on everything from the government’s response to the desired support they need, as well as their general views on the situation. The aim of the survey is to create a unified voice that can be used to formulate a lobbying response to the UK government from the perspective of the manufacturing industry. 

Speaking about the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak, Jason Pitt, the CEO and founder of the Made in Group, said, “Covid-19 is a massive challenge for both the UK and the world. My message to everyone involved in government decisions is to listen as you’ve never listened before. Government advisory teams have been widely condemned by their refusal to listen to sound advice from other countries and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This was undoubtedly a factor in the UK’s slow response to the emerging threat. A delay at the start would have bought those developing vaccines valuable time to do their research and testing. We are now playing catch up. The lesson we all must learn is to listen more to what those around us are saying.”

With the ongoing situation that we’re all facing as a country, it’s perhaps not surprising that the overwhelming number of Made in the Midlands and Made in Yorkshire members agreed with Jason’s view that the ongoing situation is a ‘massive challenge,’ with 87.3% describing Covid-19 as having either an extremely threatening or very threatening impact on their business.

But is the government doing enough to support the Manufacturing sector? So far, members from across both regions have also voiced broad support for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the situation, with 49.3% saying they did approve of the PM’s handling of the crisis. However, a wider-look at the picture shows that only 5.6% of members polled have become less worried about the impact of COVID-19 as a result of the government’s overall handling of the situation.

In some respects, the government is aware of measures that will support the UK economy. However, it’s the lack of focus on the manufacturing sector, which members raised as an issue. Throughout the survey, there was an overwhelming show of support for the extension of the abolishment of business rates to be extended to include the manufacturing sector.

Reflecting on this, Jason said it makes no sense to offer this help to the hospitality industry and then not extend to other industries. Speaking, Jason said, “The manufacturing industry, in particular, is an occupier of large premises with many sites having 100,000 sq ft of space. These businesses are a crucial pillar to the economy, while hospitality is significant, the manufacturing sector is a driver of wealth in bringing money into the economy through exports.

Manufacturers have extensive supply chains which mean it’s not only the number of people they employ but also the people in their supply chains. Because of this, the government needs to prioritise the manufacturing sector.”

Looking into the future, Jason also said that, “Because the manufacturing industry is so vital to the success of the UK that we may need a permanent solution to industrial business rates that goes way beyond one year.”

Members were undecided on whether a country-wide lockdown was the right response with only 40.8% fully supporting this. In response, Jason said, “This perhaps highlights the challenges manufacturing has rather than its attitude of widespread closures. While it is easy for service sector companies to work from home; this is not always replicable in the manufacturing sector. A CNC press worker may not be able to work from home or do something useful to the business from home.

I would call on the government to be more precise on which industries a lockdown would affect and how this would work in specific sectors that are not able to do that.”

As a result of the survey, the Made in Group is also calling for the Business Interruption Loans to be extended for a broader range of businesses. Jason said, “At the start of this crisis, it was the burger bars that seemed to have been prioritised with the government not understanding the needs of other companies.

Larger businesses also need help, and different sectors play an essential role, which, if they are not supported, will have a knock-on effect on all the offers. In a representative government, cycle money is distributed in a peppercorn style grant system, it has minimal impact, but more people get a little. The government needs to move away from election style strategy to just doing the thing that’s going to have the most impact.”

Yet despite having the Spring budget only a week ago, the survey showed how 93% of companies would welcome an emergency budget designed to battle the ongoing impacts of the outbreak.

Jason responded by saying, “While I welcome some of the measures already taken by the government, there is confusion about how to access this money, and much of the onus is on companies. We need a much clearer way of communicating this without the hoops. The government focuses on helping business needs to go behind sound bites. It’s about speed and delivery.”

In terms of possible areas of investment, Jason also added it would be useful to increase both the skills and funding to allow office workers in industrial companies to understand and implement work from home strategies.

But what are the members of both regions saying? We asked members from across both regions what their message is to the UK government. Please note this is a snapshot view of members views, we will be updating the full list later this week.

Made in the Midlands

“The amount of support should always reflect the level of the challenge. Act fairly and quickly in the best interests of our society, and then support appropriately. Communicate clearly, regularly and compassionately.”  Paul Hodgetts from In-Comm Training.

“Industry and manufacturing are as important as any other business within the UK – we need clear guidance as to the help and support we can access over the coming weeks and months. Address the manufacturing sector to appease uncertainty and concern.” – Sophie Boothroyd from Corbetts the Galvanizers.

“SME’s are vital links in the chain supporting our economy. They need financial help and contingency guidance immediately to ensure they are still viable after this crisis.” – Peter Grant from Hitherbest.

Made in Yorkshire

“The response has not been quick enough. We should have locked down quickly to reduce the spread. Although this would have caused a business interruption, it could have been minimised instead now we are potentially looking at a much longer interruption.” – Emma Armitage from Excel Water.

We expect the government to do all it can to support SME’s, but it is unrealistic to expect the government to be able to fund the propping up of thousands of small businesses” – Garth Christie, Hazel 4D.

“Follow the lead set by other European countries.”  Steve Gibb, Balmoral Tanks

If you’re a Made in the Midlands or Made in Yorkshire member, you can have your voice heard in our open letter by filling out the survey via this link. Please note that the survey will remain open until 5:00 pm on Friday, 20th of March 2020.

Please note that as of the time of writing (18/03/20). This article represents the view of 73 members of the Made in Group across both the Yorkshire and Midlands region.