Manufacturing an escape route

Khalid Saifullah hopes lessons will have been learned as the UK slowly picks its path out of the coronavirus crisis that is wreaking so much havoc on the economy. If not, the journey could be even longer and more painful.

Recognising the importance of manufacturing is high on that list of lessons. So too is investing in innovation. Nearer to home it is about Lancashire’s business leaders coming together to lead the recovery from the front.

The managing director of Blackburn-based Star Tissue, number 11 in this year’s Lancashire Business View Hot 100 list of the county’s most profitable SMEs, declares: “Government needs to invest more in manufacturing. Now is a prime opportunity. It needs to put in resources and start getting the UK making stuff again.”

Khalid, who is a director of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, alongside his role in his family-owned hygiene paper product manufacturer, says the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for much stronger local supply chains.

As a prime example, he points to the problems the UK has faced in supplying the massive amount of personal protective equipment needed for front line medical staff as they battled on the coronavirus front line.

He adds: “This should be a really important lesson for the government. When it comes to key sectors and essential areas, we should be able to service ourselves.

“We’re not going to be 100 per cent self-reliant, we have to work together internationally. But the ability to produce things quickly and locally is a huge benefit.”

We’re not going to be 100 per cent self-reliant, we have to work together internationally

That’s just one of the things he believes need to change in the post-covid world. They include more investment in innovation. He says businesses need to be encouraged to take more risks in the knowledge they are not gambling with their future.

The Northern Powerhouse can play its part. But it has to be more than a label. “Do we really want to be a powerhouse?” is his rhetorical question.

“Manufacturing now has an opportunity”. However, the much talked about Industrial Strategy has been “left to local agencies to develop without much support and no clear thinking around it”. Again, he says things have to change.

He points out that Lancashire is taking its destiny in its own hands as the LEP looks to create a clear vision for the county’s economic future. And its private sector businesses are taking a leading role in setting out the route for recovery and beyond.

Khalid says it is vital that there is a vision for the county and there is now more emphasis in the LEP on the real impact it can have on the economy.

He says: “We have to see what is needed in Lancashire, rather than trying to work on whatever the government tells us to work on. 

“We need a strategy for Lancashire and we need to agree what we are. Work is being done to understand the business of Lancashire.

“We’re compiling all the information we can to allow us to focus on the sectors and areas we think we can develop.”

That means looking beyond the county’s obvious strengths, such as aerospace and nuclear, to look at other clusters and industries that are developing and growing.

Khalid is taking an active part in a manufacturing steering committee set up by the LEP and led by Dave Jones, of Burnley-based Veka.

He says: “It is about really understanding the new reality because everything has changed now. We want to be focused on that, we want to get into the detail and start making some impact.

“It is a very private sector way of doing things and things are now moving as I would expect them to in my own business. It is absolutely not a talking shop.

“People realise that we can’t sit back, we need to lead from the front, really get engaged with businesses and make whatever difference we can, to save as many businesses as we can and to help them grow after that recovery.”