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Make UK/BDO Report – Industry warns of damaging triple whammy hit to red wall regions from ‘no deal’

16 July 2020

Analysis highlights areas most at risk from potent combination of high exposure to EU, concentration of manufacturing and Covid-19.

Key findings:

  • Manufacturing across all UK regions endured a highly volatile year with two missed EU deadlines and the impact of Covid-19
  • Regions with red wall constituencies and high exposure to EU markets and concentration of manufacturing will suffer disproportionately if ‘no deal’
  • Clear link between performance of regions and exposure to hard hit sectors such as aerospace and automotive
  • South East least impacted region due to concentration of electronics and food and drink
  • National Recovery Plan at scale essential for key industries and regions most affected

Britain’s manufacturers have warned that some of the UK’s most economically deprived regions and so-called ‘red wall’ constituencies are at risk of a triple whammy hit to their economies in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit in new analysis of regional manufacturing performance published today by Make UK, the manufacturers' organisation and business advisory firm BDO LLP.

The annual Make UK/BDO Regional Manufacturing Outlook highlights manufacturers' contribution to economic regions of the UK in terms of output, jobs and investment. It highlights that those regions with a high dependence on exports to the EU, as well as a higher than average dependence on manufacturing are likely to be most at risk from a 'no deal' Brexit with barriers to trade and tariffs. This will compound the damage already being caused by Covid-19.

In response, Make UK is re-iterating its call for the Government to work with industry and other stakeholders at a national and regional level to bring forward a National Recovery plan at scale which targets key strategic sectors and the regions which are going to be hit disproportionately hard.

Commenting, Stephen Phipson, Chief Executive of Make UK, said:

“Should the UK fail to reach a trade agreement with the EU then those regions with a high concentration of manufacturing and, a dependence on Europe as a major market, will suffer a triple hit given the impact of Covid 19. For many companies the combination may prove fatal.

“As such, it is now essential that Government works with industry and other key stakeholders at national and regional level to bring forward a National Recovery Plan to prevent the levelling up agenda going into reverse. We are now at a tipping point in how we build a recovery and a post Covid economy. If that means tearing up the rule book on adopting a new approach to policy then so be it, nothing should be off the table.”

Tom Lawton, Head of Manufacturing at BDO added:

“The manufacturing sector plays a vital role in the UK economy, but many operators have been knocked sideways by the dramatic drop in demand caused by Covid-19, with the automotive and aerospace sectors particularly badly hit. 

“Manufacturers now urgently require the Government to conclude a deal with the EU that protects their position and allows them to plan for the future. This needs to be underpinned by a long term support strategy to help them through the transition and beyond. Failure to do so could prove very costly indeed – particularly in those areas most reliant on EU supply chains and the Continental export market.

“Recent announcements suggest that the Government is overly focused on building as an antidote to the Covid-19 problems but it does need to remember the vital importance of manufacturing as an employer and creator of export wealth for the country.”

According to the analysis Wales (almost two thirds), the North East and Yorkshire & Humber (both just under 60%) have a very high exposure to trade with the EU. Combined with the fact the contribution of manufacturing to the economy overall in Wales and the North East is significantly above  the national average (17% and 14% respectively), the risks of 'no deal' are likely to be felt disproportionately by these areas in particular. The East Midlands is also not too dissimilar with manufacturing accounting for almost 16% of its economy and the EU being its biggest market accounting for half its exports.

According to Make UK, given Wales and the North East both contain some of the most economically disadvantaged areas of the UK, a hard Brexit is likely to prove especially damaging for these areas in particular. 

The analysis also shows a clear correlation between regional performance and exposure to industry sub-sectors which have been hardest hit by Covid-19. By contrast, the analysis also shows those regions where the impact has been less severe have a particular exposure to sub-sectors which have fared better or are subject to structural change.

For example, London and the South East was the best performing region in the last year and, to date has been the least impacted by Covid-19 due to its exposure to electronics and the increasing global trend towards investment in 4IR related technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence. It also has a growing food and drink sector which is the second largest sub-sector in London and the South East.

By contrast the ongoing difficulties in the automotive sector are having an ominous impact on manufacturing and those regions most closely linked to it. This has notably impacted on the West Midlands where a third of regional manufacturing output is accounted for by other transport, mainly motor vehicles which is worth £7billion in GVA to the region. The East Midlands has also been severely impacted with its concentration on automotive and aerospace, despite the region having a substantial food and drink sector which accounts for over a fifth of output (22.9%)

The North West has also been hit with its exposure to aerospace and automotive though strong pharmaceuticals and chemicals sectors which between them account for almost 30% of regional output have to some extent cushioned the impact on the region.

Other areas which have been hit hard by the collapse in aviation have been the South West where just over a fifth of output comes from transport equipment (65% of which is aerospace) and Wales where transport equipment is also the largest sector of which 68% comes from aerospace worth some £1.5billion to the Welsh economy.

The report analyses official data from the beginning of Q3 2019 to the end of Q2 2020.


Notes 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 17 offices across the UK, employing 5,500 people offering tax, audit and assurance, and a range of advisory services. BDO LLP is the UK member firm of the BDO International network.

BDO’s global network

The BDO global network provides business advisory services in 167 countries, with 88,000 people working out of 1,800 offices worldwide. It has revenues of $9.6bn.


Mark Swift 
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