Unity and strength gives Yorkshire its unique proposition’ – manufacturers outline strengths of the sector amid challenges

Unity and strength gives Yorkshire its unique proposition’ – manufacturers outline strengths of the sector amid challenges

A group of senior leaders and owners of manufacturing firms across Yorkshire feel that the power of the region’s brand, focusing on collaboration and innovation, can stand the sector in good stead for future trading, despite the complicated and uncertain times at present.

Several major firms and SMEs attended TheBusinessDesk.com’s What Yorkshire Is Made of roundtable, sponsored by Grant Thornton and Progeny.

Throughout this week, TheBusinessDesk.com will publish the discussion points from the session including Brexit implications and preparations, innovation, skills, succession planning, growth plans and exporting/importing.

Simon Pollard, head of production and logistics at York-headquartered Portakabin, said that the manufacturing sector “is very stoic” and that in Yorkshire individuals and companies “get on with it.”

Pollard added: “But the world is changing and people need more than that. It’s about the blend and getting the recipe right – opening your doors to different organisations to see what others do. I encourage my team to get out of the Portakabin bubble and look at other industries.

“It’s also about collaboration; people here in Yorkshire are willing to help others. I think it’s the history of our manufacturing sector heritage – textiles, mining. Unity and strength gives Yorkshire its unique proposition.”

David Hartley, managing director of Wensleydale Creamery, said customers and suppliers identified with Yorkshire values – which he said included being authentic, traditional, local, value for money, trustworthy and steadfast.

“Some of those values apply to us all. That’s what we have to work on. Whatever Brexit brings, we have to be positive or we may as well pack up – which we are not going to do,” urged Hartley.

Gordon Macrae, special projects manager at Sheffield-headquartered Gripple, said: “We have to collaborate. Manufacturers are lousy, generally, at collaboration. I think we need to close supply chains up to try and get them as close to local as possible. If we can do more of that and be innovative, I am sure that, in Yorkshire, we can be one of the truly great manufacturing regions in the world.”

Tracey Dawson, managing director of Leeds-based Daletech and also chair of Leeds Manufacturing Alliance, said she very much agreed that the region could be one of the best in the world again, adding: “I have a passion for manufacturing, I love what our region does.”

Talking of her own firm’s plans for 2019, Dawson said: “We manufacture low volume, high quality electronic products. As long as the products have electronics in, that’s where our expertise lie.

“We are really excited about 2019. We have actually seen manufacturing pick up. Traditionally, January is a dreadful month for us but we have been busier than ever. From a team of six 18 months ago, we are up to 14 now with a high investment into automation. But we only work in the UK.”

Nigel Meredith, managing director of Huddersfield-based Dual Seal Glass, said while it was not critical where the firm was based, the people that could be employed in the sector across Yorkshire had a “hard grit” working attitude which hugely benefited the business.

Mark Overfield, a partner at Grant Thornton who leads the firm’s manufacturing group for the Yorkshire region, said:  “I am most optimistic that businesses here are resilient and innovative enough to cope with undoubted uncertainties that will be thrown at them or experienced by them over the next three, six or 12 months.”

William Cook, a firm which operates across the north with bases in Sheffield and Leeds, started in the foundry industry and is now working in nuclear, oil and gas markets.

Asked what there was to be optimistic about entering into 2019,  Chris Seymour, MD of  William Cook, said: “We are going to make further progress in the high-tech areas we are in around the rest of the world, where we have been pushing our markets.”

Alistair Scott-Somers, director at Progeny Corporate Law, said he felt that devolution could be the next big thing for Yorkshire that could bring huge benefits to businesses. He said: “Our economy is huge, if we can stand shoulder to shoulder and stand on our own two feet, then that will absolutely stand us in good stead.”

Adam Jackson, Brexit lead for Grant Thornton, works with clients to help them develop Brexit plans from scratch. He said: “As I deal with government and politics all the time, it is hard to be optimistic but over the next year I don’t see any political optimism. My optimism would come from the business we work with who are just getting on with their business and in a Brexit context, just over half of those businesses have got a Brexit plan.”