Last week’s figures, which surprisingly confirmed that this country is in recession, tend to support the view that this is going to be a very tough year, especially for manufacturers and producers.
Government wrings its hands, but says that it will not alter course.
However, there are areas of trade in the West Midlands that just do not conform to the published statistics.
During the past two weeks, I have been attending various business shows at the NEC, talking to exhibitors and friends as to their views of the economy and the future.
As a generalisation, the feeling was that there is a slight upturn of demand in the market place, in part due to the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics.
Competition is still severe, but there was that air of confidence about.
Nevertheless, the majority of companies in attendance were expressing concern for the autumn.
Once spending for the Olympics has ceased and visitors go home, it was felt that demand would fall away. With purchaser’ budgets tight, thoughts are turning as to how to win orders in the second half of the year.
One area of particular interest is the number of exhibitors who are reporting a little success in winning orders back from Far East competition.
Ever-increasing Chinese factory gate prices, coupled with escalating freight charges are giving British producers more of a chance. In addition, customers want to work with much shorter lead times, which UK suppliers can offer.
There is also the problem of consistency of quality, and the fact that if there is a difficulty, it can take a long time to resolve.
Many stands were commenting on the lack of available skill, and the problems of recruitment of the right type of candidate to train.
So many youngsters leaving school these days seem unable to come to terms with the disciplines of time-keeping and attendance, particularly on a Monday!
Comment was made to me that the shortage of skill and experience could prove to be a bigger problem to expansion than extracting loans from reluctant banks.
Overall though, I have to say that most exhibitors felt that the worst of the recession was over, at least for the next six months, an entirely different view to the latest official figures.
It will help though, if the public can be persuaded to buy British.
* Russell Luckock is chairman of Birmingham pressings firm AE Harris