LONDON - The British Coatings Federation (BCF) has launched a “Business Confidence Index” based on data gathered from members over the last three years. A third consecutive quarter with dropping confidence levels reflects the fact that UK manufacturing is struggling with reduced output and dwindling foreign demand for UK goods. 

With this in mind, recent news that the government has chosen to cut skills funding for the Science Industry Partnership (SIP) comes as an unwelcome surprise, according to the BCF. Investment in the SIP was hailed by the government as a major skills investment in the science industries, which includes coatings and inks. Many of BCF’s members, including many SMEs, have been actively looking at how to benefit from the program, which will now stop in March 2016.

Tom Bowtell, BCF’s CEO, commented, “My biggest concern is that with the cut in skills funding, there will be no route to market to support SMEs at a time when it is needed the most to help improve the productivity of the UK economy. It’s been suggested that larger automotive and aerospace companies give vouchers to their many hundreds of tier 3 and 4 SME suppliers to help train their staff, through an Apprenticeship Levy scheme. The majority of supply chains simply don’t work like this, and many of our members’ customers are smaller companies that won’t pay anything towards skills funding. The result will be smaller companies missing out, and it is often those small companies that need support for training, given that ordinarily they don’t have a training department.

“We would like to see tax breaks to incentivize smaller companies to invest in skills, and if there is any surplus in the Apprenticeship Levy funding, then why not use trade associations, who have excellent links with SMEs in their sector, to help channel this funding to where it needs to go?”