Business Finance: Keith Ferguson examines trends within manufacturing

Keith Ferguson of BDO LLP.

Keith Ferguson of BDO LLP. - Credit: Archant

Manufacturers across East Anglia have reported a great start to the year, with output, orders and employment intentions all on the up.

According to the BDO/EFF Manufacturing Outlook survey, a balance of 40% of local manufacturers expect to report an increase in output at the end of the second quarter, with 30% anticipating an increase in total orders and 20% hoping to have boosted employment.

Our latest Business Trends report highlighted that manufacturers’ growth prospects for the rest of 2014 have strengthened too, with confidence in the sector rising to a new all-time high, ahead of levels among services firms.

It is clear we have a lot to be positive about. However, manufacturers are still facing many challenges ahead.

At the risk of oversimplifying, there are three key priorities: turning confidence into investment, expanding international operations and exports, and addressing the skills gap that’s adorned the sector for far too long.

Of course, there are other challenges too ? the ongoing energy crisis, cost of raw materials and the strength of the pound to name a few.

As we gear up for next year’s General Election, we can expect manufacturing to be at the centre of many a manifesto. With the economy now showing real signs of growth, the Government must not miss this chance to put the right framework in place for manufacturers to make the most of the recovery.

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It has already made progress. According to our Engineered in Britain report, 41% of businesses believe that the current Government’s policies have helped the manufacturing sector (up from 26% last year). However, they are less convinced they are performing well on manufacturing-specific policy.

The Government must now work to gain cross-party support and agreement on a long term, strategic framework that goes beyond the term of a single parliament to help provide a clear structure for the many manufacturing initiatives.

All the statistics point to a positive future. The fact that they are underpinned by a strengthening of exports adds further stability to the foundations of growth.

This should give confidence to the Government that its support to the sector is starting to achieve the desired results and if implemented in a clear and carefully targeted fashion we will continue to reap the rewards.

If we can face these challenges head on, manufacturers will thrive.

: : Keith Ferguson is a partner at BDO LLP in Ipswich.