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Manufacturing could be coming home

Experiences obviously vary from company to company but without doubt the Coronavirus pandemic has been, and remains, a hugely damaging distraction for most UK businesses. But whereas COVID-19 descended on us out of the blue, we have known about Brexit since 2016 – yet we are still forced to speculate about what form it will finally take and the likely financial consequences. This combination of factors has led to uncertainly and disruption, not least to overseas supply chains.

Our clothes retailers, for example – tasked every year with anticipating both changes in fashion and likely demand – typically order their stock months in advance from manufacturers that are often located thousands of miles away. Food retailers, too, buy produce from around the world, while many DIY, footwear and homeware sellers also source their product lines from overseas. The pandemic has exposed their vulnerability.

For all the talk of new opportunities outside of the EU, Brexit for some could be a nightmare. A recent report from advisory firm Alvarez & Marshal estimated that a ‘no deal’ Brexit could see tariffs of up to 80% introduced on some meat and dairy products. Clothes and footwear could be subject to tariffs of 12% and 16% respectively.

Hardly surprising, then, that many UK firms are reviewing their options – one of them being to bring manufacturing back home. The report suggests that an extra £4.8bn worth of goods a year could be manufactured here in the UK.

There are other forces at work, too, such as the ‘green’ campaign and the drive to source goods only from ethical suppliers; seven out of ten retailers are said to be revising targets to meet consumer and investor demands for more sustainability. The environmental cost of shipping goods from places in the Far East is under scrutiny.

Some UK clothes manufacturers are already investing in new factories to meet demand; one such is Fashion Enter which has opened a new site in Powys to produce a new range for ASOS, the online fashion retailer. In Derbyshire, the fashion brand David Nieper is hiring more staff and investing £4.5m in a textile factory. The list goes on.

Why is this relevant to us? Because the trend illustrates that the UK manufacturing industry has the capacity, flexibility and technical know-how to produce goods that meet the highest standards in both operational and ethical terms. And, because UnitBirwelco has three strategically located sites across the UK that are open for business.


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