Make UK/BDO annual survey highlights vital importance of industry to North West but Covid impact hitting key sectors

06 July 2020

Reliance on EU market for exports means trade deal vital for region

Key findings

  • Industry accounts for 15% of North West economy overall
  • 342,000 manufacturing jobs in the North West
  • Manufacturing jobs account for almost 1 in 10 of the region’s total workforce
  • North West accounts for 8% of UK total manufacturing exports
  • The EU is the top export destination for North West goods, 52% of the total
  • North West is the UK’s most productive manufacturing region

A new report out today from Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation and accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP shows that manufacturing remains central to the success of the North West economy with the sector accounting for 15% of the region’s economy, way above the national average.

The report also shows the extremely high reliance of the North West on the EU market for exports. As a result, Make UK has stressed the vital need to secure a trade deal with the EU before the end of the year. Failure to secure such a deal risks significant damage to prospects for industry in the North West.

According to the report, which analyses the overall status of industry in the region over the last twelve months, shows that, North West manufacturers have endured a tumultuous year. Brexit uncertainty compounded by Covid 19 has impacted sectors such as Automotive which were already experiencing significant downturns. On top of this, Covid 19 has also severely affected the Aerospace sector to which the North West is heavily exposed, dragging down the levels of both output and orders and leading to a downturn in both investment and recruitment.

Transport Equipment remains the biggest manufacturing sector in the North West accounting for almost a fifth of output (17.7%) while the Pharmaceutical and Chemicals sectors are also significant contributors to North West industry, accounting for just under a third of regional output between them. Pharmaceuticals in particular is an especially strong performer and has benefited from the spike in demand due to Covid, and leading to the North West being the UK’s most productive industrial region at 118% of the national average.

The North West also continues to be a strong export performer, accounting for almost 8.2% of total UK manufacturing exports. The EU continues to be the region’s main export destination (51.3%) followed by Asia and North America. The last twelve months has also seen a notable expansion in exports to the Middle East and North Africa which now account for almost 10% of North West exports.

Commenting, June Smith, Director of Member Engagement for Make UK in the North, said:

“The report shows that industry continues to have a central role to play in the success of the North West economy.

“There are well documented challenges going forward, not least the major impact of Covid 19 and the global economic downturn, the results of which are likely to be felt for some time. Furthermore, the outcome of Brexit has the potential to have an impact on the future performance of manufacturers in the North West given the exposure to the EU as a major export market.  If we are to avoid a double whammy hit on the sector it is essential that the UK agrees a trade deal before the end of the year that prevents barriers to trade.”

Graham Ellis, Head of Manufacturing at BDO in the North West said:

“The region’s manufacturers were already facing huge uncertainty over the UK’s future trading relationships, even before the seismic shock of Covid-19. Many have stepped up to support the country at a time of crisis. But they now urgently require the Government to deliver a trade deal with the EU that protects their interests and allows them to plan – in addition to a longer term recovery package which encourages investment in skills, digital transformation and a greener future.

“As the furlough scheme begins to wind down, many of the region’s manufacturers will face difficult decisions on jobs and investment, so it’s vital that their pleas for support are heard loud and clear by policymakers both locally and nationally.”


Note to editors

About Make UK

Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, is the representative voice of UK manufacturing, with offices in London, Brussels, every English region and Wales.

Collectively we represent 20,000 companies of all sizes, from start-ups to multinationals, across engineering, manufacturing, technology and the wider industrial sector. We directly represent over 5,000 businesses who are members of Make UK. Everything we do – from providing essential business support and training to championing manufacturing industry in the UK and the EU – is designed to help British manufacturers compete, innovate and grow.

From HR and employment law, health and safety to environmental and productivity improvement, our advice, expertise and influence enables businesses to remain safe, compliant and future-focused.


Accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP provides integrated advice and solutions to help businesses navigate a changing world.

Our clients are Britain’s economic engine – ambitious, entrepreneurially-spirited and high growth businesses that fuel the economy. 

We share our clients’ ambitions and their entrepreneurial mind-set. We have the right combination of global reach, integrity and expertise to help them succeed. 


BDO LLP operates in 18 offices across the UK, employing 3,500 people offering tax, audit and assurance, and a range of advisory services. BDO LLP has underlying revenues of £428m and is the UK member firm of the BDO International network.

BDO’s global network

The BDO global network provides business advisory services in 162 countries, with 74,000 people working out of 1,500 offices worldwide. It has revenues of $8.1bn.