Jonathan Hindle, chairman of the British Furniture Confederation
The British Furniture Confederation (BFC), as the industry’s representative body for Government, provides a platform for the UK furniture manufacturing industry to lobby Government on the issues and challenges where political intervention will make a difference.
It is determined that our Government recognises the distinct identity and importance of our sector – over 8,000 businesses producing products worth £10bn and directly employing more than 106,000 people. And while it is by rights design-led, it needs to be seen as a significant manufacturing industry to be proud of and it should be listed as a priority alongside aerospace, automotive, tech, financial services etc, not just treated as a sub category of the design and creative industries.
Brexit has created a focus in Government and for the first time a genuine opportunity to engage and shape policy to our advantage without being deferred or fobbed off to EU trade and labour regulations. It’s an opportunity the BFC is not going to let slip by – hence the publication of its own Manifesto, based on feedback from a survey of the industry conducted just after the Referendum.
For too long our industry has been preoccupied with complaining about what it doesn’t like in EU directives and attitudes rather than setting its own agenda. It now has a real opportunity to shape its standards, ensure it has a future generation with the right skills and passion and revive its investment in high quality design and engineering to distinguish itself. It is essential we now invest in Industry 4:0, to be competitive globally.
There are real and immediate skills issues in the sector and we welcome the Government’s efforts to improve and expand training opportunities – but it will take time before training plugs the gap and in the meantime our industry needs to be able to access the particular labour skills it needs from the wider European labour pool until we have caught up.
Our industry is keen to export more both globally and within Europe. We need trade agreements ‘ready to go’. We need tariff-free trading with Europe. Government urgently needs to come up with a clear, five year export strategy and sector-specific package of support that SMEs in particular can access so businesses can plan ahead.
There are other issues looming where an active dialogue with government will be essential – not least the challenges and opportunities of working towards a circular economy.
Our door is always open - please give us your views and ideas so we can continue to develop and improve our ‘Furniture Industry Manifesto’.
Our current agenda covers exporting; skills and training; flammability; and the circular economy. What is your experience, what are your ‘asks’ in these areas?
What else would you like us to address? You tell us – we’ll ensure your voice is heard.