The Brexit negotiations turned into something of a circus during the final stages. Months of propaganda, threats and counter-threats, fractious TV interviews and political posturing – all were of little value to anyone trying to run a business. Most of us just wanted certainty. And it seemed our wish had been granted with the last-gasp trade deal on Christmas Eve allowing us all, finally, to say goodbye to all the speculation and get on with our work.
Or so we hoped. The recent behaviour of the EU concerning the availability of COVID vaccine is a timely reminder that our former partners are sore losers and not necessarily our friends when it comes to the commercial realities of future trade.
Commenting in a recent survey conducted by Make UK and PwC, Stephen Phipson (Make UK’s CEO) said: “The transition to a new trading arrangement with the EU was always going to be the biggest challenge facing manufacturers this year and the fact we have an agreement in place doesn’t alter that. However, just as the sector rose to the challenge of aiding the national effort at the start of the pandemic, it is clearly set to do so again as we rebuild the economy and take advantage of the opportunities from digital technologies.”
And surely that’s the point. Despite concerns over the new trading relationship with Europe, almost 48% of those taking part in the survey see a significant or moderate improvement for manufacturing in 2021. Just over half (51%) believe that the opportunities outweigh the risks, compared with 47% who believe the risks are greater.
While protecting supply chains and controlling costs remains the biggest priority, 57% of manufacturers are investing in new product development with a similar proportion also planning capital investment, with both including a significant commitment to digital technologies. A quarter are looking to re-shore overseas activities while 25% are looking to identify new or additional suppliers in the UK as a high priority. 44% are committed to training with 37% investing in apprenticeships and, as a result, 54% are looking for opportunities in fresh markets, such as Asia and the US.
The future remains opaque rather than crystal clear and for most manufacturers the devil most definitely will be in the detail. But if we invest in modern processes and talent, and look to new, expanding markets – we’ll be well placed to prosper in the post-pandemic era.