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Brexit: Optimism among small manufacturers collapses amid uncertainty

Simon Neville

Optimism among small and medium-sized manufacturing firms (SMEs) has plunged in the last three months faster than any pace since July 2016, according to the Confederation of British Industry.

The latest CBI SME Trends Survey for October also found that of the 240 manufacturers interview, optimism around exports for the year ahead also remains gloomy.

Total new orders fell slightly in the three months to October – down 6 per cent, at a similar pace to July, when there was a 4 per cent fall.

Both domestic and international orders fell 12 per cent and 6 per cent respectively – with customers sitting on their hands due to the political and economic uncertainty resulting from Brexit.

The data echoes the latest manufacturing PMIs, the closely-followed survey of the entire sector, which saw the industry contracting in October for the fifth month in a row.

Officials at the CBI added that output remained flat in the three months to October, and is expected to fall next quarter by 9 per cent.

SMEs blamed the political and economic uncertainty abroad as the biggest reason for lacking optimism, followed by import licence restrictions.

Jobs in the industry shrunk by 5 per cent for the first time since January 2013 and are expected to fall at a similar pace in the next quarter, it added.

As a result of the uncertainty, companies said spending on plants and machinery were down 20 per cent, with staff training spends down 25 per cent.

Alpesh Paleja, lead economist at CBI, said: “As a first step to lifting the malaise, the next government must get behind business to deliver on a Brexit deal, particularly one that unlocks a smooth transition period.

“Then the real heavy lifting can begin on forging a future relationship with our biggest trading partner. Ending political uncertainty will enable a renewed focus on domestic priorities, which is critical for the economy’s longer-term growth.”