Manufacturing may not be glamorous for some, but the sector remains one of the bedrocks of the UK economy. Ranking third largest behind business services and retail, manufacturing represented around 17.4% of Britain’s GDP in 2019, employing 2.6m people or 8% of the entire workforce.
The pandemic has probably altered some of the key ratios – for example, we know that manufacturing output fell nationally by 10% last year – but a survey conducted by Make UK and business advisory firm BDO found that UK orders for firms operating in the Yorkshire and Humber region rose by 17% in Q1 this year. Manufacturing output improved from the end of 2020 to near average historic levels and, as a result, Make UK has upgraded its growth forecast for the sector to 3.9% from 2.7%.
The main cloud on the horizon is for those companies exporting to the EU which are experiencing higher costs and more bureaucracy following Brexit. The current situation is causing concern, but hopefully common sense will prevail and trading between the UK and Europe will eventually stabilise.
Overall, though, there are clear signs of a recovery in manufacturing. The upward trend should be helped further by the Chancellor’s new package of incentives for companies investing in new plant and equipment that will improve productivity and competitiveness. He also announced the creation of eight new English Freeports, one of which will be based in The Humber.
But perhaps the most exciting development for the region was the recent £3bn acquisition by INEOS – a British company with an annual turnover of £44bn – of BP’s chemicals businesses in Saltend Chemicals Park. The early signs are good. A spokesman for INEOS told a business audience in Hull: “We pride ourselves on being a good neighbour. We are intending to be an active part of the UK Energy Estuary, securing jobs in Hull, ensuring sustainability of our operations in a thriving super cluster of world chemical businesses.”
Part of the plan is to ‘reshore’ some operations from Europe and Asia to the UK while, further down the line, a decision will be made later this year on whether to go ahead with building a new £150m vinyl acetate plant which would create still more jobs in the area. This promises to be a real boost for manufacturing in general and for the Humber region in particular.
In the meantime, our own Unit Engineers and Constructors (UEC), based in Immingham, has mirrored the experience of other manufacturers – a downturn of work in 2020 followed by a recovering order book this year. Suddenly the future feels a whole lot better.