WMF June 2020 steering group meeting summary

This month’s meeting of the Wakefield Manufacturing Forum focused on the topics of remote working and the reintegration/management of furloughed staff. Tim Mee, (Planet Platforms and WMF Chair) opened by welcoming new member Richard Stainforth from Quality Components (www.laserprofiling.net/). We look forward to gaining form his experience and insights in the future.

With the enforced changes in our day-to-day operations it was an important time to gauge the committee’s feedback on the successes and problems remote working has caused, and also what processes might be maintained once restrictions continue to be eased. For Adrian Bird, Employer Engagement Manager for Wakefield Council, who normally visits businesses directly, “Getting a clear idea of a working environment for manufacturers is key to helping provide the right support and that is proving to be new challenge whilst working remotely.”

For manufacturers in particular, the general consensus is that a flexible approach across the business is key to be successful. Obviously, the ability for production employees to work away from site is not possible in most cases and so different options have been placed on sales/support staff to those on the shop floor. David Masters, Managing Director of OE Electrics. said that whilst the business “hadn’t embraced working remotely previously, with 50% of staff being furloughed at the moment the majority of the company’s remaining employees are now working from home and will be for the foreseeable future to ensure space within the business can be maintained and prioritized for manufacturing activity.” He went on to highlight that working remotely will become “an integral part of the future of the business.”

Paul Heigham, from Bellingham IT and bringing an expert opinion from an IT perspective, added “Businesses who have viewed technology as a cost rather than an investment previously have run into problems, not least with supply pressures on laptops and increased costs in securing the right infrastructure to respond to remote working requirements.” As a result, he feels many businesses will have a “full route and branch review of technologies within the business.” In summary of the businesses Paul works with it was interesting to hear that manufacturing companies were often better prepared than other sectors.

In other business, Guy Foster representing the Chamber of Commerce, noted that they had seen a significant increase in manufacturers requesting export documentation such as Certificates of Origin in the last few months. This hopefully is a sign of a relative strengthening in our export position and steps to compliance ahead of Brexit. However, this was balanced with insight from Andy Young of PolyGlobal and David Maters of OE, that suggested a gap in export sales, particularly to Germany, in the next couple of months.

An important addition from Richard Stainforth added he had noted an “increase in the average aged debt of the company’s customer base” with many businesses, particularly larger organisations, using temporary closures as a reason for extending payment dates. This is leading to increased pressures on the cash flow of smaller manufacturers across the board.

David Whiteley, Manufacturing Growth Manager for the Manufacturing Growth Programme, highlighted that he had seen “live funding programmes double recently as more management time became available, with a particular focus on marketing programmes.”

The group discussed a need to provide an event on the funding schemes currently available both in relation to COVID and the wider manufacturing scene. As such the WMF will be providing a virtual conference on 7th July to cover off the various options available with expert contributions.

Adrian Bird highlighted that Wakefield Council’s Discretionary Grant Fund has been opened up to include manufacturers in the district who were not previously eligible for the Small Business Rate Relief scheme (https://forms.wakefield.gov.uk/Forms/TopUpGrant/TopUpGrantForm.aspx).