Summer 2019-20 (Q1) South West



Welcome to SWMAS Manufacturing Barometer Summer 2019-20 (Q1), South West, report. 

Now entering our 10th year, we continue to map opinions and performance trends of the sector as reported by MDs and other senior decision-makers working in SME manufacturing businesses in the South West and across the UK. There is no better source of strategic and performance insight into UK-based SME manufacturing businesses, 98% of a sector crucial to the success of the UK’s economy. 

This quarter the South West Manufacturing Barometer reveals a concerning and prolonged downward trend in performance. Although caused by Brexit uncertainty, manufacturers remain persistent in fulfilling their growth aspirations. In exploring their Staffing and Recruitment strategy in the Special Focus the Barometer reveals an introspective plan that manufacturers believe will leave them stronger once Brexit has been concluded. 

The unique position of the Manufacturing Barometer means we can compare this latest snapshot of the SME manufacturing sector’s performance with our longer-term data. We are working on the 10th Anniversary report in which we will share more insight into how the sector has performed over the last decade and since the 2009 downturn. If you are interested in getting involved in shaping the SWMAS Manufacturing Barometer 10 Year Anniversary report, do get in touch.  



Actual performance of manufacturing businesses in the last six months continues to underline the challenge Brexit and its associated uncertainty presents throughout the sector. Nearly a quarter of SME manufacturers experienced a reduction in sales and a third experienced a loss in profits. Moving towards a fifth of manufacturers reduced investment in machinery or premises, and nearly a fifth registered their active reduction in staff numbers.  

Looking ahead to what the next six months holds shows gritty determination as just over half of the South West’s SME manufacturers continue to anticipate an increase in sales, and the number forecasting recruitment of new staff recovers somewhat to 45% after last quarter’s plummet.  

Draw a trend line through the reported findings across sales, profits, investment and recruitment, and there is no doubt the swing in performance continues to move downward. It is therefore unsurprising that nearly 20% Barometer respondents reference the need for certainty and nearly 15% define their immediate aspiration as ‘survival’.  

However, in unpacking the Staffing & Recruitment Special Focus data, we can show that manufacturing business leaders overall are far from accepting doom and gloom. They are switching their attention to the factors in their control and to driving the productivity of their existing people and processes. 



This Special Focus divulges reasons behind findings last quarter that showed intentions to recruit were at a 10-year low.  

Just 2% of South West-based SME manufacturers report that it is easier now compared to this time last year to recruit skilled and motivated people. This is compared with 54% who say they are finding it more difficult. Local talent shortage is a key reason behind the difficulty so many have in recruiting staff, as is the attitude and salary expectations of the candidates themselves – recorded as the top three external factors impacting on manufacturers ability to recruit skilled and motivated staff. 

Driving productivity through People, Products, and Processes 

We looked more closely at how manufacturers plan to address the challenge of recruitment and found an emphasis on the proactive steps they are taking in three core areas vital in driving productivity: People, Products and Processes.  

One key factor to emerge is the desire to develop new products – a likely catalyst for new sales, potentially in new markets. 

Significantly, our manufacturers are putting their weight of effort on improving existing processes and developing existing people.  

Manufacturers reflect this in the staffing strategies they are likely to employ in the next 12 months. Over 70% of UK SME manufacturers want to concentrate on developing their existing workforce. Training, staff retention practices, leadership development, coaching, and apprenticeships for current staff collectively outweigh strategies to bring new people into the business. 


While performance of the South West’s SME manufacturing sector, largely due to Brexit uncertainty, continues to follow a downward trend, manufacturing leaders remain pragmatic. They are improving and fine tuning the inner workings of their business, focusing specifically on driving productivity through existing people and processes. They are considering, too, that new product offerings could well be the key to sales growth amongst new audiences in a post-Brexit world.  

Manufacturers, particularly SMEs, need recognition and support from the government that will help them to continue to adapt and to drive productivity through their people, their products and their processes. This will ensure they are leaner, stronger, more competitive and ready to surge ahead once Brexit is finally out of the way. 

Download the full Summer 2019-20 Q1 Manufacturing Barometer South West report:

2019-20 Q1 Summer Manufacturing Barometer South West Report.pdf


Ready to identify opportunities in your business that will help you drive up profit, sales or productivity? Contact us today and discover what business improvement support and funding is available to assist you in achieving your goals:

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In unpacking the Staffing & Recruitment Special Focus data, we can show that manufacturing business leaders overall are far from accepting doom and gloom. They are switching their attention to the factors in their control and to driving the productivity of their existing people and processes.

Simon Howes, MD, SWMAS