The Black Country Chamber Manufacturing Links Group met to listen to experts in manufacturing and in sales. During the meeting the group received the results from the Black Country Business Indicator for Q1 2016 which shows a significant recovery from Q4 2015 on UK and export sales and orders. Manufacturers are taking on more employees but are still struggling to find people with the appropriate skills.

“Although confidence is bouncing back, margins are being eroded and businesses are delaying investment decisions and hanging on to cash,” said Stephen Lane, CEO of Rimstock and Chair of the Manufacturing Links Group.

Group members were polled on recent events in the steel industry: despite the drop in world prices for steel, only 23% had noticed a drop in steel input prices; 52% had seen no change. 19% said that Chinese tariffs would affect them with 69% not affected. 75% of group members were not aware of any measures implemented by government to support the steel industry such as: preventing dumping and unfair trade practices, support for energy intensive industries with their energy costs, improving procurement opportunities for the UK steel supply chain, a review of business rates and emissions regulations exemptions.

“Group members were not aware that the UK Government has prevented EU action to increase tariffs on imported Chinese steel,” said Mr Lane.

55% of group members thought that the government response to Tata’s plans to sell its UK plant was wrong with 23% thinking it was right.

“Many members recall Rover, Jaguar and MG and are wondering why the same mistakes are being repeated.” said Mr Lane.

In response to the question ‘What do you think is the most important thing the government could be doing for the steel supply chain?’ 48% said reduce energy costs, 19% said make better use of EU funds, 13% said reduce business rates, 10% said put tariffs on steel dumping and 6% said change emissions policy.

52% of group members said that they were proactively managing energy costs with a further 19% saying that they will be undertaking action in the future.

“The results of this poll are no surprise: the manufacturing sector is generally disappointed with the ‘laissez faire’ approach of government. Nurturing industry requires careful planning not knee-jerk reactions. The Government will continue to be caught out until it learns to treasure its industrial heritage and build cross party support to develop long term support structures for our manufacturing sector,” said Keith Bryan, Chief Executive of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce. “Our economy is completely unbalanced structurally and geographically and unless our Ministers focus on economic rather than political gain, we are unlikely to deliver upon our already reduced growth targets. Nationalisation is not the answer and neither is economic growth based on unsustainable consumption or selling our industrial heritage into foreign ownership. The government needs to take a page out of the American, German or Italian governments’ handbook and fight fiercely to support the march of the makers.”