South West manufacturers hope for Free Trade arrangement with EU following Brexit

Small to medium sized manufacturers in the region have underlined their hopes for a Free Trade arrangement with the EU following Brexit, according to the latest National Manufacturing Barometer.

The quarterly survey asked 331 manufacturing industry leaders, including 109 from the South West, to share their concerns about the Brexit process.

Over 50% of manufacturers in the region said that maintaining a Free Trade arrangement with the European Union was a key priority, as well as the need for the Government to move more quickly through the negotiation process. This reflected a similar sentiment across the country, with around half of manufacturers nationwide citing a preference for continuing Free Trade with the EU.

Conducted by SWMAS (part of the Exelin Group) in partnership with Economic Growth Solutions (EGS), the survey also asked business leaders about the impact of the Brexit process on business to date. Worryingly, over 27% of South West manufacturers said the process has already had a negative impact, and almost 43% anticipate that business conditions will get tougher still once the UK leaves the EU.

Furthermore, 49% of businesses surveyed in the region said they felt the Government had not taken their business needs into consideration in talks with the EU about Brexit to date.

Another focus for the survey was business performance over the last six months to June 2017. Encouragingly, a total of 67% of respondents from the South West said turnover had increased during the period, compared to 66% reporting increased turnovers in the previous quarter. This represents a slight increase for 2017, and a jump of 24% compared to the same period last year.

This quarter’s Barometer also asked respondents to report on profits over the last six months. Over 42% of businesses in the South West reported an increase in profits over this period, compared to 26% experiencing a decrease in profits. Looking forward, 42% of West Country business leaders expect an increase in profits over the next six months.

Commenting on findings of this quarter’s Manufacturing Barometer, Simon Howes, CEO of Exelin Group, said: “SME manufacturers in the South West are sending a clear message to Government. The vast majority want to see free trade with the EU maintained to help minimise the cost of imports, and keep red tape to a minimum. Some manufacturers are already seeing the cost of materials rise due to recent falls in the value of Sterling against the Euro, and uncertainty over the future of the UK’s trade arrangements with the EU.

“Another clear concern for SME manufacturers is for the Government to clarify its Brexit plan as soon as possible to avoid any further slips in business confidence. Manufacturers need a firm ground to trade from and at present many feel they are standing on ‘shifting sands’. SME manufacturers make up over 95% of manufacturing businesses in the UK and their voice needs to be heard. Unfortunately, the survey shows that most SME manufacturers do not feel this to be the case – the Government needs to take heed.

“On a far more positive note, manufacturers are proving themselves to be adaptable and resilient in the face of Brexit’s uncertainties with 42% expecting profit increases for the next six months. This is a sure measure of the sector’s strength and agility.”

The Manufacturing Barometer is the largest survey conducted of SME manufacturers in the UK and asks senior decision makers for their views on business performance, future trends and Government policy. This survey covers summer 2017 (April, May and June 2017) with businesses surveyed in July.


For further information, please visit or follow @swmas_ltd/@mfggrowthp on twitter. To obtain a copy of the National Barometer, please email