WH Smiths Zero Point Eight
Image Source: Zero Point Eight
WH Smiths fit out completed by Zero Point Eight at Heathrow Airport
Russ Cockburn

SME manufacturers urged to have their say on Covid-19 impact

Small to medium-sized manufacturers in England are being urged to take part in a major survey detailing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on industry.

The Manufacturing Barometer, which is conducted by South West Manufacturing Advisory Service (SWMAS) and the Manufacturing Growth Programme (MGP), went live today and is inviting companies to highlight the issues they are facing and the support they need to overcome them.

Companies are being asked to highlight changes in production volumes, difficulties in retaining employees, supply chain disruption and any major ‘pivots’ they are doing to supply new markets, including answering the call for more medical equipment.

They will also be given the opportunity to give their thoughts on existing business support packages, whilst identifying other areas of assistance they may require, such as cashflow, HR advice and skills retention.

“Big businesses have their voice, but in these unprecedented times it is important that we give SMEs a platform to have their say on the current Coronavirus crisis,” explained Simon Howes from SWMAS.

“Our quarterly Manufacturing Barometer, the largest survey of its type in England, gives them this exact chance and we are looking for hundreds of firms to take part before it closes on Friday 17th April.”

He continued: “The information will be communicated directly to Government so will hopefully inform future policy and support as we continue to get to grips with Covid-19 and its wide-reaching ramifications.

“The survey takes just five minutes to complete and can be filled in online here – (https://survey.zohopublic.eu/zs/00hdIL) We want as many companies to take part so we’re asking everyone in industry to spread the message.”

Zero Point 8, a specialist in the design, manufacture and installation of bespoke furniture, is one company that is keen for the Government’s business support announcements to be put into action.

The Black Country company was on course for a record £3.7m year after launching its new interior fitout business and securing contracts in retail, education, hospitality and the commercial sectors, but the sudden uncertainty brought on by Covid-19 has seen many of its clients postpone projects until later in the year.

“I’m confident we can emerge from this global crisis stronger, but we need the Chancellor’s measures to combat the economic impact of Covid-19 to be implemented quickly, so that vital money gets to the people and companies who need it most,” explained Mark Baker, Chief Executive Officer of Zero Point 8.

“The Business Interruption Loan Scheme for SMEs looks like a good idea on the surface, but we need high street banks to be on board with the spirt in which it was announced, making the process a lot simpler and more flexible than it has been in the past.”

He continued: “We are a proud Black Country business and our 44 employees are like family, which is why we broadly welcome the retention scheme put in place by the Government.

“My only issue is the timescale it will be delivered in. The end of April is too long for companies and their staff to wait and we would urge the Chancellor to look at ways in which this can be brought forward.

“Together, we have to do everything we can to retain these valuable skills in the region and make sure that, when we come out of this, we have the expertise we need to make the most of the stalled projects.”

Zero Point 8 has gone from an empty order book in 2016 when it was rescued by Mark to a £2m business last year, with sales on course to reach £3.7m before the Coronavirus pandemic intervened.

Operating from its factory in Netherton, the company manufactures and installs bespoke furniture and fit outs for WH Smith outlets at airports, Oxford Brookes University and a host of leisure establishments, including Nocturnal Animals in Birmingham.

Mark concluded: “We want to do our bit to help the national response to Coronavirus and can mobilise very quickly to help our country by repurposing production with solutions to combat Covid-19, including interiors and furniture for hospitals and temporary/permanent facilities.”

In a slight change to the normal release of information, the Manufacturing Barometer will be showcasing initial findings on Thursday April 2nd and then again at the end of the month to highlight how SME manufacturers are adapting and the ongoing challenges/opportunities they are facing.

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