The low down

Some £192bn of products are ‘Made within the UK’ by a 2.7 million-strong workforce. However manufacturing was experiencing a sustained interval of decline even earlier than the pandemic. ‘Money optimisation and mitigation methods’ have been an instantaneous precedence, at the same time as pressure majeure clauses had been pored over and employment recommendation sought. M&A offers are generally on maintain, with many unlikely to go forward even by This autumn – for a lot of practices, such company exercise is linked to insolvency and misery. But all just isn’t doom and gloom. The tech financial system continues to function extra usually, and shocks to manufacturing could effectively deliver ahead adjustments that the sector was at all times going to should sort out sooner or later, from adapting to local weather change to coping with better automation and synthetic intelligence.

Occasions are powerful for producers and their provide chains. In addition to a deep recession, automation and the inexperienced agenda, there’s Brexit on as but unsure phrases and the prospect of a deterioration within the state of worldwide commerce, as China and the US take pleasure in periodic bouts of trade-policy belligerence.

The UK is a service-led financial system, however it’s nonetheless the world’s ninth-largest manufacturing nation. Information from Make UK, which represents the sector, reveals manufacturing employs 2.7 million folks, produces £192bn in items yearly and accounts for 44% of complete exports.  

However whereas the lockdown hit provide and demand, UK manufacturing was already going through challenges, together with international competitors from China, and maintaining abreast of technological improvement led to by the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ or ‘Trade 4.0’.  

There was a lot deal with the fallout from Covid-19 that we have now nearly overpassed the state of the manufacturing sector within the lead-up to it. It was fairly embattled already

Tim Lake, DLA

As DLA company companion Tim Lake observes: ‘The sector as an entire was not ready of energy because it entered the disaster. There was a lot deal with the fallout from Covid-19 that we have now nearly overpassed the state of the manufacturing sector within the lead-up to it. It was fairly embattled already.’

By December final 12 months, UK manufacturing exercise had already taken ‘a flip for the more severe’, registering the steepest deterioration in output in seven and a half years, and an eighth consecutive month of decline.

Lake, who leads DLA’s industrial sector group within the UK, ascribes this to a mixture of causes, together with a decelerating international financial system, commerce tensions, diminished client confidence and a slowdown in demand.

The pandemic has affected components of the trade greater than others.

‘Aerospace and automotive have been hammered unbelievably badly on account of Covid-19 and the outlook for these sub-sectors, specifically, is probably lots greyer than for a number of the others,’ says Lake, who additionally advises shoppers in chemical substances and basic superior manufacturing.

And consumer wants are altering. Jannan Crozier, a companion in Baker McKenzie’s company observe, says manufacturing shoppers ‘usually are not shopping for a selected authorized service or a observe space – they want their legal professionals to assist their enterprise way more holistically than in earlier durations’. This implies understanding the challenges they’re going through and suggesting options, whereas ‘staying true to their company tradition and their model’.

Lake makes use of a extra comforting analogy: ‘The way in which we have now supported our shoppers has been immense. We’ve gone to a brand new stage by way of actually making an attempt to wrap our arms round shoppers via what’s a really troublesome set of circumstances.’

Not all shoppers have wanted rescuing. ‘There are pockets of producers who’ve really achieved very effectively out of the disaster,’ says Lake, pointing to produce chains and the manufacturing of PPE and medical tools reminiscent of ventilators. ‘We’ve been serving to shoppers who’ve wanted to gear-up manufacturing and tackle extra employees, and entry company employees quickly to cope with an uptick in demand.’

Cashflow is king

Dorrien Peters, companion and head of Irwin Mitchell’s manufacturing group, says the extent of presidency intervention is what has set this disaster other than different recessionary crises. Schemes embody the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which was open for functions on 20 April and permits employers to assert money grants value as much as 80% of wages, capped at £2,500 a month per employee; the ‘versatile furlough scheme’, which permits corporations to determine the hours and shift patterns of their staff, with the federal government persevering with to pay 80% of salaries for the hours they don’t work; and the ‘Job Retention Bonus’, a one-off cost of £1,000 to employers for each furloughed worker who stays constantly employed till the tip of January.  

Peters says that authorities assist was rolled out in a short time and, consequently, ‘our employment legal professionals have been terribly busy’.

However, Peters provides: ‘Cashflow points proceed to be a big concern for companies, suggesting that liquidity, along with solvency, will decide how companies fare via the pandemic and the influence on the financial system.’  

The closure of factories and disruption of provide chains sparked an ‘speedy deal with cashflow and dealing capital, and on maintaining the enterprise liquid’, Lake provides. ‘The mantra that “cashflow is king” couldn’t have been extra related within the early weeks and as we moved via Covid-19.’ A survey of 600 British Chambers of Commerce members, carried out on the finish of March, discovered that the majority (62%) had not more than three months of money left to cowl operating prices.

DLA Piper has helped manufacturing shoppers ‘up and down the worth chain’ entry various funding sources and authorities mortgage schemes. These embody the Covid Company Financing Facility (CCFF) – the joint HM Treasury and Financial institution of England lending facility designed to assist liquidity amongst bigger corporations – the Coronavirus Enterprise Interruption Mortgage Scheme (CBILS) for SMEs, and the Bounce Again Mortgage Scheme (BBLS) for smaller companies. Lake describes this as ‘most likely the most important space of labor’ for the agency on account of producers’ cashflow issues.

Shoppers throughout all sub-sectors have additionally rolled out ‘money optimisation and mitigation methods’ – from closing vegetation and shelving M&As and capital spending, to suspending or cancelling dividend funds to shareholders and executives, and reducing senior employees salaries.

‘There has additionally been lots of engagement with debtors and we have now suggested shoppers on serving to them gear-up their credit score management services and capabilities, and to place extra strong credit score management procedures in place to unlock money,’ Lake says.

Producers have additionally been addressing provide chain ‘gaps’ attributable to provider insolvency, terminated contractual relationships and geographical adjustments necessitated by the pandemic.

‘Reassessing and rebuilding provide chain networks consists of figuring out new suppliers, renegotiating with current suppliers and addressing contractual disputes,’ Crozier says.

Tom Scourfield, co-head of CMS’s client and retail sector group, notes that contractual obligations have been put underneath the microscope. ‘For the reason that disaster took maintain, corporations have been reviewing the provisions of their contracts to see if the outbreak would possibly quantity to pressure majeure or a irritating occasion,’ he says. ‘Absent particular wording reminiscent of “outbreak of illness” or “epidemic”, this may be troublesome.’


Report decline

A survey of greater than 300 producers carried out by Make UK between 29 April and 20 Might discovered manufacturing output had plunged to a ‘report low’, with orders falling to ranges solely noticed through the worst of the 2008 monetary disaster. Whereas ‘all sectors suffered a extreme drop in output’, these carefully related to the automotive, aerospace and building suffered ‘very badly’.


Simply 11.7% of corporations stated they had been working at full capability and plenty of had been already implementing redundancies. ‘With out the Job Retention Scheme, it’s extremely doubtless the employment figures would have reached the worst ranges within the survey’s historical past,’ says Make UK. It estimates manufacturing will contract by nearly 10% in 2020 earlier than rising 6.2% subsequent 12 months.


Manufacturing was hit a lot more durable by the lockdown than different sectors, based on a joint report revealed in Might by regulation agency Irwin Mitchell and CEBR, shedding £540m a day on account of a fall in client demand. With just a few exceptions, UK manufacturing nearly fully shut down.

Two phases

Mark Bardell, company companion and co-head of producing and industrials at Herbert Smith Freehills, distinguishes two phases of the disaster. Whereas the primary was characterised by ‘very fast speedy recommendation’ regarding liquidity, provide chains, pressure majeure and associated contractual provisions, ‘within the second section, which we’re at present nonetheless in, shoppers are wanting up from these speedy operational difficulties and making an attempt to challenge ahead’, he says.

This consists of rebuilding manufacturing ranges, planning for the secure return of the workforce, accessing further fairness financing to repay debt, and rising capital expenditure in a low-revenue and low-profit setting that might final till 2022.

Producers face an uphill wrestle and not using a important company shake-up. In accordance with Bardell, there’s each the necessity to minimize prices and in addition the ‘stress in direction of fairly basic adjustments in lots of industries’.

Utilizing automotive for example, he says: ‘There’s an impetus in direction of electrification, which is partly client desire, partly ESG [environmental, social and governance]-related, and that’s going to require lots of capital to take a position.’

That is, in flip, placing stress on pursuing joint ventures, M&As and different company offers that had been ‘placed on pause or fully deserted through the first section of the disaster’, says Bardell. He provides: ‘We’re simply seeing within the final month or in order that exercise choosing up once more.’ Nevertheless, he cautions it’s ‘all early stage’ and offers are unlikely to be accomplished or introduced earlier than This autumn of this 12 months.  

Such M&A exercise as there’s, Crozier says, shall be ‘distressed M&A… sale of non-core belongings, and underperforming enterprise items could also be a liquidity maximisation technique accessible for some corporations’.

She provides: ‘Stronger corporations may have alternatives to pursue strategic acquisitions, usually at decrease costs, reminiscent of expertise options or suppliers that present essential parts or are positioned in key geographies.’

They want their legal professionals to assist their enterprise way more holistically than in earlier durations

Jannan Crozier, Baker McKenzie

Provide points

Covid-19 has severely disrupted provide chains the world over, and this might end in shoppers bringing them again residence via onshoring and nearshoring.

‘We’ll begin to see the notion of complicated provide chains unwind and there shall be numerous consolidation,’ says Lake. ‘In recent times, producers have targeted on lowering provide chain prices [by] pursuing extra aggressive lean manufacturing methods, and offshoring and outsourcing have been a standard theme.’  

Peters says that whereas some transactions have been placed on maintain due to logistical points, reminiscent of conducting correct due diligence amid journey restrictions, others have been progressing as regular, albeit with better scrutiny over the numbers and forecasts. ‘However most surprisingly, we have now had many new directions and new investments, significantly on the tech facet, excess of we had anticipated given the present local weather,’ he says.

There are two sides to the story of shoppers calling on their legal professionals in occasions of want. Regardless of ‘many hours spent’ on ‘quite a lot of short-term authorized recommendation’, there was ‘a measured discount by way of income and income throughout this era’, Bardell factors out. However with the return of company exercise and a rise in disputes, significantly within the provide chain, Bardell expects these areas to be ‘busy’ within the coming months.  

Whereas within the early levels of the disaster shoppers had been unlikely to begin ‘totally fledged arbitrations or court docket claims towards counter-parties who they wanted to work with fairly carefully throughout this troublesome interval, as issues settle and value reductions change into clearer, [they] are going to be pressured by business causes to begin their disputes in a proper means’, he says.  

Scourfield  provides: ‘We anticipate disputes to proceed to come up as corporations assessment the wording of their provisions and take into account whether or not contracts needs to be amended or terminated.’

Unprecedented authorities assist for enterprise and staff put short-term brakes on job cuts and insolvencies. However that is altering because the enterprise help packages wind down and finish.

‘Insolvency and debt-restructuring companies are excessive on the agenda, as producers attempt to regular their companies,’ Peter says. ‘In current weeks, some high-profile names have entered into formal insolvency processes and the knock-on impact for producers that offer these companies is an inevitable consequence.’ The identical is true of redundancies.

Andrew Roberts, companion and sector lead for manufacturing at nationwide agency Weightmans, acts for a variety of UK producers, with shoppers working in sub-sectors together with automative, meals manufacturing and packaging.

Reflecting a wider development, the agency’s employment legal professionals have been advising producers on HR points associated to Covid-19, reminiscent of versatile furlough, he says. However he provides: ‘Sadly, we discover that we’re additionally being referred to as upon to advise producers on deliberate redundancies and web site closures.

‘The rising record of producers which have introduced important redundancies as a result of orders have slowed is inevitably going to have an antagonistic knock-on impact on the producers of their provide chains.’

Plane maker Airbus has introduced plans to chop 15,000 jobs, together with 1,700 within the UK. Greater than 6,000 UK automotive job cuts had been introduced in June, based on commerce physique the Society of Motor Producers and Merchants.

A Make UK survey carried out on the finish of June, discovered that 42% of corporations within the manufacturing sector deliberate to make redundancies within the subsequent six months.

No deal or a foul deal?

Brexit and the pandemic are ‘a double-whammy’ for the sector. ‘Assuming there isn’t any complete UK-EU commerce deal, we’ll be , amongst different issues, commerce boundaries, restrictions on using sure EU employees, and probably divergent product requirements and labelling regimes,’ argues Dentons companion Martin Mankabady. ‘Including into this combine macro-political uncertainty, an financial downturn and diminished client demand, the outlook is fairly gloomy to say the least.’ On the upside, he predicts that that is most likely ‘the underside of the malaise and we may even see indicators of a restoration, even it if is sluggish and protracted.’  


Because it was confirmed in June that there shall be no extension of the transition interval past 31 December, ‘Brexit has come again to the highest of the agenda,’ says Paul Hardy, Brexit director and UK head of presidency affairs at DLA Piper. That was the ‘set off level’ for shoppers to begin ringing up for recommendation, together with on ‘no-deal’ planning.  


Hardy says many producers already had no-deal contingency plans or Brexit mitigation methods in place and that work already undertaken ‘isn’t redundant’; nevertheless, there are variations from earlier no-deal planning such because the Northern Eire Protocol within the Brexit Withdrawal Treaty, which replaces the controversial ‘backstop’.       


The scarcity of PPE and ventilators has revealed the vulnerability of complicated international provide chains and made British producers keener than ever to keep up shut ties with the EU. ‘Covid-19 is prone to enhance the protectionist agenda in commerce,’ Hardy states. ‘However there’s now a query mark about how straightforward international provide chains are to function in a time of a disaster just like the pandemic. That makes nearer buying and selling ties with the EU much more vital than they had been 12 months in the past.’


In an open letter to Boris Johnson on 30 June, a cross-sector group comprising the Chemical compounds Enterprise Affiliation, the Manufacturing Know-how Affiliation and lots of of SMEs stated that no deal or a foul deal could be ‘massively damaging to the UK financial system’.


Producers’ key issues centre on customs, regulatory approvals, stockpiling and tariffs. Nevertheless, Hardy says if a UK-EU commerce deal is reached by the tip of the 12 months, it’ll cowl items, not companies.

Human contact

HR and employment regulation recommendation has elevated, however has additionally advanced to replicate the individuality of this disaster – from working remotely to advising shoppers when staff are refusing to attend work as a result of they don’t suppose it’s Covid-safe.   

‘Help round human capital and the workforce goes to be completely key as we proceed to maneuver ahead – significantly round serving to shoppers design and implement a return-to-work plan on the proper facet of presidency tips and restrictions regarding social distancing, track-and-trace of staff and decontamination of premises,’ Lake says.

The pandemic has considerably modified how producers handle their workforces, based on Crozier. As corporations resume greater manufacturing ranges, they’re introducing further measures to guard employees, together with automating duties, contact-tracing and temperature checks, in addition to implementing processes to collect knowledge on employees and preserve observe of their actions.

‘These actions elevate myriad authorized questions associated to employment, well being and security, knowledge privateness and safety, and IP licensing,’ she says.

Peters provides: ‘We’ve seen a rise in knowledge safety recommendation work as employers acquire extra private health-related knowledge from staff returning to work.’

The working-from-home revolution can also be affecting producers, significantly these with massive head-office capabilities, so authorized recommendation has been sought on remote-working insurance policies and expertise.

‘For lots of shoppers, the notion of distant working was anathema and so they didn’t essentially have a company view, not to mention a coverage,’ says Lake.

Not everybody can or needs to earn a living from home and this creates ‘actual points round employment and wellbeing by way of how we make sure that the social change that has been imposed upon us works for everybody’, Peters notes.

Moreover, employees may need or have to work extra flexibly, however with expertise shortages in sure areas, employers could change into extra protecting of their workforce, prompting extra restrictive covenants.  

Seeking to the long run, what different authorized companies will producers want? Attorneys level out that the disaster is accelerating the roll-out of clever manufacturing and automation to permit for social distancing, albeit with knock-on results.

‘Sadly, the headcount goes to be diminished as good factories begin changing into the norm and we transfer in direction of robotics and AI,’ says Lake. However there’s additionally a have to retrain factory-floor employees to function the expertise. ‘There’s a complete raft of authorized assist required round that.’

Put up-crisis, additional funding in expertise will see machines making extra ‘choices’ in organisations, prompting ‘better scrutiny from regulators’, Scourfield  factors out. This interprets into further regulatory hurdles to clear underneath the GDPR and problems with legal responsibility for errors and hurt that come up out of AI processes.

Setting regulation recommendation may even be essential. ‘Sustainable progress and transitioning to a round financial system [where resources are in use for as long as possible] stay excessive on the agenda for regulation and policymakers within the EU and the UK,’ he says.  

The just lately adopted European Inexperienced Deal and the New Round Financial system Motion Plan are ‘key pillars’ of the EU’s ambition to attain ‘local weather neutrality’ by 2050 and mainstream sustainable improvement considering, Scourfield  explains. Within the UK, the Setting Invoice displays this method.  

‘All companies might want to keep alert to a protracted pipeline of authorized and regulatory developments on product design, and the discount of waste and carbon emission measures, and be ready to adapt their methods in response,’ Scourfield  says.

Confronted with one other potential disaster on their arms – the approaching break with the EU – the sector may play secure or take of venture. As Peters asks: ‘Will producers have the arrogance to spend money on new applied sciences or will they need to construct up money reserves for a potential additional financial shock, reminiscent of a no-deal Brexit?’ 


Marialuisa Taddia is a contract journalist