Pandemic’s ‘reshoring’ trend could provide critical boost to Lancashire, says adviser

The coronavirus pandemic could offer Lancashire a once in a generation opportunity to further enhance its global manufacturing credentials, but only if it accelerates the use of digital technologies.

That’s the view of Andrew Feeke, a partner at Preston-based accountancy and business advisory firm MHA Moore and Smalley, who says the pandemic has shown everyone the value of having greater certainty within the supply chain. 

Andrew’s comments come after it was revealed the government has drawn up a strategy to reduce the UK’s reliance on imports, in particular from China, following the results of “Project Defend” — an internal exercise to ensure Britain retains access to manufacturing capacity for critical goods while diversifying its trading relationships.

He said: “The UK is a real leader when it comes to ideas and innovation, but we’re not currently set up to make things in sufficient volumes as we have fallen far behind in the investment in automation required to be efficient.

“We saw it with the difficulties the government had in sourcing PPE at the height of the pandemic and in the delays other businesses have had in getting vital equipment and materials. You look at countries like Germany, Turkey and indeed China that have large manufacturing bases and they have had more certainty in the supply of essential materials.

“A focus on reshoring, a trend that seemed to be underway before the pandemic, may be the answer to this. However, we need to be investing more in the adoption of ‘Industry 4.0’ to give us the edge on automation and digital manufacturing techniques.

“Yes, it will cost more in the short term, but it will reduce lead times and bring the certainty of supply that’s vital in a post COVID-19 world, especially as the threat of a no-deal Brexit is still a very real possibility.

“Government policy has to focus on this as a priority for certain sectors. This could provide a real boost to the North West which has always had a strong manufacturing heritage and a skilled workforce.”

Reshoring is expected to be a key part of the government’s strategy to rebuild the UK economy following coronavirus. And last month, 35 UK manufacturers came together to launch UK Manufacturing Unite, a campaign to rebuild the UK’s industrial capability and target reshoring opportunities.