To coincide with Export Week (18-22 May) a quarterly report released today (Monday) by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and DHL Express shows that British manufacturing firms are rising to the global challenge, reporting increased export orders and sales in Q1 2015.

The survey, running since 2006, of more than 2,300 exporting firms has revealed that 46% of manufacturers reported increased export orders in Q1, compared to 36% in Q4 2014. Meanwhile, the proportion of service firms that recorded increased export sales remained steady at 33%.

Furthermore, almost half of exporting manufacturers surveyed (44%) increased their labour force in the first three months of 2015. The vast majority of these new jobs were full-time positions (84%), up from 61% in Q4 2014.

This level of growth has been achieved in the face of increasing pressure from higher exchange rates, in particular the rising pound against the euro, which reached a seven-year high in early March 2015. More than half of manufacturing firms surveyed (55%) said that exchange rates are having an impact on their ability to trade globally, compared to 48% in Q4 2014 and 34% at the same time last year.

BCC Director General, John Longworth said ‘manufacturers are turning to export markets abroad to fuel their growth ambitions as weak growth in the UK persists’.

The key findings from the report are:

  • Almost half of manufacturing firms surveyed (46%) recorded increased export orders in Q1 2015, compared to 36% in Q4 2014
  • In addition, 43% of manufacturing firms reported an increase in export sales, up from 38% in Q4 2014
  • Meanwhile, the proportion of service firms that recorded increased export sales remained steady at 33%
  • 44% of manufacturing exporters added new staff to their labour force in Q1, and the majority of these new roles were full-time (84%)
  • More than a third of manufacturing firms (38%) said their cash flow had improved, up from 29% in Q4 2014
  • More than half of manufacturing firms surveyed reported that the exchange rate is having an impact on their ability to trade globally (55%, compared to 48% in Q4 2014 and 34% in Q1 2014)
  • Local Chambers of Commerce provide exporters with the documentation required to move their goods into international markets. The volume of trade documentation index issued by the Accredited Chamber Network increased to 121.43 in Q1, compared to 117.43 in Q4 2014
  • The highest increase in exporting activity was recorded in East Midlands, West Midlands and the South West

Commenting, John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

“Manufacturers are turning to export markets abroad to fuel their growth ambitions as weak growth in the UK persists. Encouragingly, the increase in export sales and orders has come about in spite of the rise in the pound against the euro over recent months – a credit to the strength and expertise of the UK’s manufacturing sector.

“Despite these positive figures, real progress towards eliminating the UK’s trade deficit remains elusive. At the heart of the new government’s agenda must be ambitious plans to improve the UK’s trade performance – we have to develop a pipeline of new exporters and help existing exporters break into new markets. Only then will the UK regain its position as a trading powerhouse and unlock future economic growth.”

Commenting, Phil Couchman, CEO of DHL Express UK and Ireland, said:

“The findings are very positive with confidence levels amongst UK exporters reaching a record high. Manufacturing is the hero this quarter. Not only were manufacturing exporters particularly confident but a large proportion of businesses surveyed are also planning to hire new staff.

“With much discussion and analysis on how UK manufacturing is transforming it is positive that UK manufacturers are considering overseas markets for growth. There is a global demand for high quality British products and we hope to see this continue so the sector can once again establish itself as a leader on the world stage.

“We are confident in the future of the UK export market and we know from our customers that businesses can reap the rewards through export success. To sustain growth, exporters, particularly SMEs, need to take advantage of the increasing tools and support available.”