Yorkshire industry 'seeing biggest shift in emphasis since World War II'

The scale of manufacturing repurposing that is taking place to fight the Coronavirus pandemic is the biggest shift in the industry since the Second World War, according to a senior business leader.

Beckie Hart, regional director for CBI Yorkshire and The Humber, said she had been “humbled” by the response from businesses who are determined to join the effort to stop the spread of Covid-19.

The region is full of gin distilleries switching to hand sanitisers, precision engineering companies making ventilator components and a drug developer which is developing and manufacturing a rapid test for screening large populations to diagnose coronavirus.

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Beckie HartBeckie Hart
Beckie Hart

She added: “I have been really humbled with how businesses have responded (to the pandemic). We’ve had lots of Yorkshire businesses getting in touch with us asking us how they can help whilst they are managing an incredibly complex business situation at the same time.”

Baildon-based Produmax, which usually makes flight control components, last week switched to manufacturing components for ventilators to meet NHS supply chain needs.

Engineers from the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Rotherham are putting training software on ‘augmented reality’ glasses to fast-track setting up new production lines at factories across the country.

Meanwhile, this week Wetherby drug developer Avacta announced it was developing and manufacturing a rapid test for screening large populations to diagnose coronavirus.

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Even micro-businesses are doing what they can. Holmfirth gin distiller, Divine Gin, revealed it is making 70 litres of hand sanitiser for frontline social carers in Kirklees as well as staff at their local Co-op.

“There are lots and lots of companies who have contributed to the effort who will never make the headlines,” Ms Hart said. “We are calling them our business heroes.”

She added: “For other businesses they are in perilous positions right now and concerned with how they are going to pay their staff today.

“They shouldn’t be hung out to dry because they haven’t offered their services. We need them to survive so the economy can be as healthy as can be when we come out of all this. It’s a case of the business community coming together.”

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Companies in the Leeds City Region that can manufacture vital products, such as hand sanitisers, face masks, scrubs and visors, are collaborating with a supply chain programme at Huddersfield University to ensure that they get to where they are needed most.

The programme’s goal is to help small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) establish connections with larger companies so that their products penetrate the supply chain more effectively.

Roger Marsh OBE, chairman of the LEP, added: “It’s a real testament to the manufacturing capability in our region that businesses are responding swiftly to the urgent needs of the NHS.”

Ms Hart praised the government’s support for businesses during the emergency period but said more help was needed for micro-businesses.

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“The government is listening to businesses like it’s never listened before,” she said.

“Our measures to help businesses are the best in the world.

“But there are areas of Yorkshire with micro businesses which are still falling out of these pieces of support and the government needs to plug the gaps for them.”