SME manufacturers in the South West are being hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, with 87% of companies identifying a significant decrease in production volumes.
The initial findings of the Manufacturing Barometer, which surveys firms across England, reveals a stark picture of how the virus is already affecting industrial confidence and future predictions around safeguarding jobs.
Conducted by South West Manufacturing Advisory Service (SWMAS) and the Manufacturing Growth Programme (MGP), the report shows that almost nine out of 10 of respondents expect sales to drop over the next six months, while more than half predict the need to cut staff – despite the Government’s furloughing scheme being introduced to boost employee retention and preserve businesses.
There also appears to be continued confusion over the business support available. Nearly three quarters of firms questioned either don’t think the assistance being offered is sufficient – or are unsure of the help they can access.
Unsurprisingly, almost 90% said that financial support was needed most, followed by overcoming supply chain disruption and detailed business advice on how to cope with the pandemic.
Simon Howes, Managing Director of SWMAS, said: “COVID-19 is already having a significant impact on the majority of SME manufacturers surveyed and many of those who have yet to experience a change are expecting this global health and economic crisis to affect their business over the coming weeks and months.
“Unlike many sectors, our manufacturing industry cannot be carried out remotely as it relies on physical interaction with machinery and parts. Current restrictions and lockdown measures in the UK mean capacity is reduced, and this is reflected in four-fifths of companies seeing a reduction in staff attendance.
“Companies who may still be able to produce goods are still reliant on their supply chains and a massive 80% of businesses questioned are either struggling to source materials or have seen reduced orders from customers since the COVID-19 crisis began.
“Just over half of respondents have said that restrictions on exporting and importing are having an impact on their operations, so whether they trade nationally or worldwide, many small and medium-sized UK manufacturers are uncertain of what the future holds.
“Some 86% confirmed they will need financial assistance, yet there is a great deal of uncertainty over the eligibility criteria for business loans and how quickly these can be accessed, if at all.
“Many businesses are also concerned about how paying furloughed staff will affect their cash flow in the short term before government support becomes available. While the Government’s initial support package was widely welcomed by industry, there is a need to provide deeper advice and support for manufacturers to help them to adapt and to survive.”
The Manufacturing Barometer, the largest survey of its type in England, shows that finding routes to new markets is one way for manufacturers to keep their business ticking over when their existing customer base is limited.
The 13% who said that their production levels have increased are supplying into the fields currently experiencing a higher than normal demand as a result of COVID-19, highlighting an opportunity for other manufacturers to support their supply chains at this difficult time.