The Midlands is the birthplace of the industrial revolution, and its history of manufacturing is world-renowned.
Today it is home to some of the biggest names in UK manufacturing, from Jaguar Land Rover and Rolls Royce, to brewers like Molson Coors and Carlsberg.
But the past 12 months have been hard for the region’s makers, as they have been for manufacturers across the country. The latest figures from Make UK show that activity fell by 10 per cent during 2020, and the organisation predicts it will be some months before it recovers to where it was before the pandemic.
So, what can be done to speed up the recovery and get the sector back on a firm footing for future growth?
This is the question that the Midlands Manufacturing Resilience Commission asked with its first report.
The commission was set up by Dr Clive Hickman of the Coventry-based Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) and it is a body we at Lloyds Banking Group are proud to support.
The commission’s report, Manufacturing Confidence, gives 13 recommendations, focusing on the need to drive investment in manufacturing businesses across the Midlands, and building the region’s skills base, especially among young people.
It calls on the Government to give more support to Midlands-based businesses as part of its regional ‘levelling up’ agenda. The main areas where this funding is needed, it says, are grants for research and development activity, and support for colleges and universities to build manufacturing partnerships.
For our part, Lloyds Banking Group is committed to supporting manufacturing business across the Midlands, and we continue to provide millions of pounds in backing to companies in the region.
For example, one great company we have lent our support to recently is Wolverhampton-based engineering firm Varlowe Industrial Services. We have provided the firm with a £350,000 funding package that will allow it to go ahead with its plans for a £1.5m extension to its site.
The business provides specialist engineering services to a wide range of customers including Jaguar Land Rover, BMW and West-Midlands Safari Park. It has 37 staff and expects to create at least 10 new roles within the next year as part of its expansion.
Varlowe is just one example of hundreds of fantastic SME manufacturers based in the Midlands, and we’re proud to be lending them our support as they work to pursue new opportunities and build back following such a challenging period.
When it comes to building skills, funding apprenticeships is a key part of the challenge. As well as helping to develop a new generation of skilled employees, they also bring a host of other benefits, including increased productivity and performance, greater engagement and loyalty, and more diversity in the workforce.
One initiative that is making a big impact in this area is the Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund. This is a scheme used by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) that works with larger employers who transfer a proportion of their unspent apprenticeship levy grants to local SMEs to help pay for apprenticeship training.
At Lloyds Banking Group, we have pledged £3m to support the scheme in the Midlands, which has already attracted more than £21m in funding from a wide range of benefactors and has benefitted 1,840 apprentices at 613 SMEs across the region.
We’re also supporting the UK manufacturing sector through a £10m investment in the Lloyds Bank Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre at the MTC . This funding will support the training of 3,500 graduates, engineers and apprentices through to 2024, and has already seen almost 500 apprentices move into employment in the sector.
As the vaccine roll-out continues and the horizon begins to brighten as far as the COVID-19 crisis is concerned, I’m confident that Midlands manufacturers, with their proven track record of innovation and resilience, are poised for a strong recovery.
To read the full report from the Midlands Manufacturing Resilience Commission, visit m2r.org.uk. For more information about the Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund, wmca.org.uk/what-we-do/productivity-skills/the-apprenticeship-levy-fund.