Region’s manufacturers slash investment plans in response to pandemic

West Midlands manufacturers have slashed investment in response to the continued impact of the pandemic.

According to the Make UK/BDO Manufacturing Outlook Q3 survey, the balance on investment intentions was reported at -29% in the last quarter.

While the level was not quite as bad as that for the last quarter the continued severe impact on future investment is likely to hamper the efforts of companies to take advantage of any recovery.

Furthermore, Make UK warned that given the uncertainty surrounding the Brexit negotiations and the very real possibility of ‘no deal’, the combination of that outcome with the continued impact of the pandemic could cause further damage to investment prospects in the latter part of the year.

The impact of COVID-19 also took a heavy toll on company order books and output in the West Midlands with the balances for orders and output falling to -35% and -29% respectively. Output levels in particular are significantly below the national average, reflecting the continued severe difficulties being experienced by the automotive sector and its supply chain. In response to the difficult trading environment, the prospects for recruitment have also been dealt a heavy blow with the proportion of companies intending to recruit falling sharply.

Looking forward, given the impact on the sector Make UK is now forecasting that manufacturing output will fall by almost 11% this year while it has downgraded its forecast for recovery in 2021 by more than a full percentage point from 6.2% to 5.1%. GDP is forecast to fall by -8.5% this year before recovering by +10.1% in 2021.

Charlotte Horobin, region director for Make UK in the Midlands said: “Manufacturing has begun to climb away from the abyss that it stared into earlier in the year. But, make no mistake it is going to be a long haul back towards normal trading conditions, with talk of a V shaped recovery nothing more than fanciful.

“Having emerged from three years of political uncertainty at the end of last year, increasing talk of a final ‘no deal’ exit from the EU would be a final nail in the coffin for many companies. If we are to avoid this and, the avalanche of job losses that would follow in already hard hit areas and sectors, it is essential that the first step towards a fuller recovery is provided by a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU.”

Jon Gilpin, head of manufacturing at BDO in the Midlands, added: “The fact that so many businesses across the region are losing their appetite to invest is a real cause for concern. With a no deal exit from the EU – and associated logistics, customs and cost implications – looking increasingly likely, British manufacturers will need to step up a gear in order to compete internationally, and this will require significant investment in productivity and digitalisation improvements.

“No-one is in any doubt about the financial challenges facing manufacturers, but failing to invest now will have serious medium to long term implications. The Government must be alive to this risk and provide the support required to help UK manufacturers through this transition period and beyond. Other countries – Germany in particular – provide good examples of consistent long term support to their manufacturing sectors. The UK should look to adopt a similar approach.”