Two headlines this week – in the space of 24 hours – provided very mixed messages about the state of UK manufacturing and the direction it is heading.
Throw in the confused picture that remains due to Brexit and it is hard to assess what the actual state of the industry is in.
There was positive news as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that exports had reached a record high for the past financial year at £620bn, with an increased demand for manufactured goods driving the rise.
Another set of figures from the ONS into UK Manufacturers’ sales by product in 2017, released at the start of this month, also brought more positivity.
There was a 5.4% increase in sales with a total value of £384.5 billion, with the food manufacturing sector having the largest increase with sales up £4.6bn (7%) as it totalled £70.3bn making the largest manufacturing sector in the UK.
So, with all this positivity of increased exports and increased sales over the past year or so, there was a report in The Telegraph that flew in the face of this. It’s headline – UK Manufacturing industry facing ‘doldrums’ as order books run short – obviously tells a different story.
Reflecting on the latest figures from the purchasing managers’ index (PMI), analysts are warning that a demand for goods is slowing and optimism is faltering.
The article points out that orders from overseas are not as high as last year and that staff recruitment, which I know something about, has again lessened.
There was grim news from author of the survey over the latter half of the year.
Chris Williamson, IHS Markit’s chief economist, said: “The survey reveals mounting worries from companies relating to the impact of tariffs and trade wars, suggesting firms are bracing themselves for the potential for further export losses.”
So, when I read these various figures and stories, I actually wonder what is the true picture, and I am sure I am not alone in being confused.
Business across the UK – whatever sector – are unclear, which is being worsened by the lack of clarity of Brexit. I am fully aware of the impact this is having on the recruitment of EU workers, but two years on from the referendum and we still await the plans.
So what is the state of British manufacturing and what direction is it going? Does anyone really know?