By David Park, Public Affairs Manager
Keeping the economy going
Last week the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, told the House of Commons: “where people absolutely cannot work from home, they can still go to work. Indeed, it is important that they do so in order to keep the country running.”
And yesterday the Business Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, has felt the need to enter the fray, writing in the Daily Telegraph that businesses which do not fall under the categories Boris Johnson has chosen to shut, have every right to stay open, saying “We still need houses built and deliveries made.” He went on to state that government needed to make sure the damage coronavirus is doing to the economy is “minimised.”
But not business as usual
There are few who would argue with the need to keep the economy functioning during this crisis, and government has introduced steps – like access to finance and deferment of taxes – designed to help companies do just that.
However, no one can pretend that we are anywhere near ‘business as usual’ either. All businesses are having to adapt to unprecedented circumstances.
Like others, BCF members are taking measures to follow government guidance to support and protect their employees over this period. They have made sure all staff who can work from home do so and, for those who cannot and still come into the workplace, they follow PHE guidance on social distancing, handwashing, and other health and safety measures.
Members are also having to manage increased sickness absence, as staff find themselves taken ill and having to self-isolate. Moreover, depending on the precise sector they work in, they are having to deal with raw material shortages or price rises, drops in orders from customers, and difficult decisions about whether to ‘furlough’ staff.
Coatings key in tackling coronavirus response
And yet, despite the setbacks and uncertainty, our coatings sector is proving to be resilient and, indeed, to be playing a crucial part helping to tackle the country’s coronavirus response.
Top Gear once made an episode where they asked all UK manufacturers of ‘vehicles’ to send a sample of their product to The Mall in London. The presenters were amazed when they turned up to discover the whole Mall was full – from Buckingham Palace to Horseguards Road – with everything from Formula One cars to ice cream vans, JCBs to Nissans, and from buses and taxis to cherry pickers and tractors. They had not expected such an array of auto manufacturing to still be taking place in the UK.
In our conversations with members over the past couple of weeks, the same picture has begun to emerge – of the sheer breadth, depth and variety of products made the coatings industry for its customers. And amongst this smorgasbord of British manufacturing there are so many goods and products that are essential to the coronavirus response, and to generally help keep the country going during the pandemic.
The following is just a small sample of how our members are ‘playing their bit,’ with their coatings going to help customers:
- Supply key materials for ventilators;
- Produce equipment for hospitals, including beds and trollies to bins and medical waste containers;
- Manufacture isolation units for hospitals across the country;
- Make new “sneeze and cough” screens for supermarket checkouts to protect staff;
- Refurbish oxygen cylinders to increase the supply to NHS;
- Make packaging for food, pharmaceutical and other key goods, helping produce stay safe and fresh for consumers.
- Provide temporary sleeper units and showers for the NHS;
- Build new machinery to help with food production and picking;
- Create coatings classified as medical devices, including products like liquid plasters;
- Keep logistics operations in full swing, from airports to warehouses, including packing cases and linemarkings;
- Create temporary car parks so staff can get parked closer to hospitals;
Our members are also contributing in other ways, where they can. Some members have started to produce hand sanitiser in varying quantities, sometimes provided free to their local communities.
Coatings – an essential industry
The coatings industry is a vital and irreplaceable part of our country’s economy and is also playing a clear and important role in the ongoing global fight against coronavirus. As the UK Government considers whether to strengthen the existing ‘lockdown’ criteria, BCF will be continuing to make the case for our industry to be deemed essential should more businesses be required to shut their doors.
Whilst not all of our members will want to, or sometimes be able to, continue production into the future – at least not at 100% – collectively we want to make sure our sector at least has the opportunity to carrying on playing its role in the fight against coronavirus. To do that it needs to stay operational so as to supply the vital goods and components others in critical frontline sectors need.
Visit BCF’s new coronavirus hub for up-to-date information and support for members here.