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Manufacturing campaign sees focus on skills as Brexit weariness sets in

By Simon Penfold | Business | Published:

Brexit weariness is kicking in for Black Country bosses as they concentrate on the day to day problems of running their businesses.

The launch of a new Black Country campaign to support manufacturing companies found many concerned with the continuing skills gap and the need to get young people into engineering, or with help securing funding so they can invest in new machinery, rather than the political wrangling around the UK's exit from the European Union.

For most, the important issue around Brexit was the impact of the weak pound, making their imports more expensive but boosting the workload of those in the export supply chain.

Karen Hughes, of Brierly Hill-based Harco Engineering, said: "It's gone absolutely manic. Our order book is probably better than it has been in the last two years. Although most of our customers are in the UK, around 90 per cent of them export what they make. And they are talking to us about orders well into the future.

"It went quiet after the Brexit vote, in June, but a few months later it suddenly picked up and hasn't stopped. I know some other firms are quite quiet though."

Bartley Finnigan, from Allied Irish Bank, said: "We are seeing a lot of owners and managers that have a lot of confidence in the performance of their own businesses, but less confidence in the wider economy. There's a degree of contingency planning going on, with firms talking to their opposite numbers in France or Germany to ensure that, whatever happens, they will be continuing to trade as normal."

Rob Werhun, from tooling firm Tungalloy, and Lee Thatcher, from software company ACUTEC, both said businesses were adapting to the impact of the lower pound. Rob said: "No-one knows what is going to happen with Brexit; we'll just have to see and roll with the punches." Lee added: "People are more concerned over what is happening with their businesses right now, such as the General Data Protection Regulation legislation early next year that could impose big fines on companies that lose data."

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said that while bigger corporations were pausing decisions on major investment and looking at their contingency plans, most smaller companies were simply getting on with the day-to-day job of running their businesses.

"We are seeing Brexit weariness," he said. "Companies are seeing it as a distraction and saying they will deal with the consequences when they have some clarity. In the meantime they are getting on with running their businesses. And there is a lot of sense in that."

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While Brexit took something of a back seat, the need to clarity, for a younger, better trained workforce, more funding to support innovation and automation and efforts to tackle the high cost of energy for companies were high on the list of priorities for the new Black Country manufacturing campaign, Making The Future.

Launched at yesterday's breakfast event at the Grand Station venue in Wolverhampton, to a packed house, the campaign is being led by the Black Country Chamber of Commerce.

But it is also being backed by other business bodies, with CBI West Midlands' regional director Richard Butler on a panel of experts at the vent, fielding questions on the hot topic of skills along with Jason Pitt of the Made in the Midlands manufacturing organisation.

Also showing their support were Neil Lloyd from law firm FSB Manby Bowdler, which is sponsoring the campaign, Trevor Leeks, operations director at JLR's i54 engine factory, and Martin Dudley, chairman of the Thomas Dudley foundry and plastics group which employs 400 in the Black Country.

Corin Crane, chief executive of the Black Country Chamber, said the campaign was aimed at "supporting manufacturing firms through a period of globaly uncertainty".

Simon Penfold

By Simon Penfold
Business Editor - @SPenfold_star

Business Editor based at the Express & Star's head office in Wolverhampton, looking for stories big & small.

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