World Economy

UK Manufacturing Investment Slows, Outlook Balanced

Just a third of companies say that Brexit has had no impact on their plans.Just a third of companies say that Brexit has had no impact on their plans.

Investment by Britain’s manufacturers has seen a reality check in response to the continued political uncertainty, research has found.

According to the EEF/Santander Annual Investment Monitor, while demand conditions should be spurring on investment, just a third of companies say that Brexit has had no impact on their plans, reported.

A similar proportion are only investing to satisfy current plans and waiting for clarity on any deal before investing further, while at the other end, 13% of companies are holding off investment altogether until there is further clarity on a Brexit deal.

The report says that taken together, this leaves the outlook for investment by manufacturers finely balanced with only a narrow majority expecting to be investing more on new equipment in the next two years. While the reticence emanating from other parts of the global economy has diminished, the survey reflects increasing Brexit-related uncertainty.

This indicates that while manufacturers may be investing to satisfy current plans or, expand capacity, they are not investing in improving their production capacity. The survey’s spotlight on investment in automation shows that industry is making only slow progress on automating manufacturing processes, with industry being held back not just by caution but also by challenges from the cost of technology, uncertainty about returns and the capability to successfully implement change.

In response, EEF considers that boosting investment and productivity should be at the forefront in the forthcoming budget statement.

EEF chief economist Lee Hopley says: “Manufacturers have navigated a panoply of demand-related challenges in recent years, which have taken a toll on the sector’s appetite and ability to invest. With global demand on the up, conditions should be ripe for industry to make new investments in capacity and productivity enhancing technology. But Brexit means the future outlook for investment is not clear cut.

“Political uncertainty is adding to the hurdles of cost and lack of skills in holding back spending on automation technology. The forthcoming budget can at least start to address the latter of these challenges, starting with an ambitious industrial strategy that tackles barriers to investment head on and ensures UK manufacturers are equipped to compete for the future.”

Hopley said the chancellor, Philip Hammond, should use his forthcoming budget on November 22 to introduce measures that would encourage business investment.



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