AN EAST LANCASHIRE manufacturing company is leading a new group aiming to coordinate business responses to the coronavirus pandemic and to call for the government to do more to support small and medium sized enterprises as the economic impact of the crisis continues to bite.

Annette Weekes, managing director of Nelson-based PDS Engineering together with the University of Lancaster's Health Tech Hub and East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce has formed the Covid-19 Manufacturing Cluster for Lancashire and South Cumbria.

They group, which already has more than 80 members, aims to give a collective voice to firms calling for support and hopes to persuade the government to provide targeted support to the manufacturing sector once the furlough scheme comes to an end next month.

Ms Weekes said: "On behalf of the manufacturers that make up the COVID19 Manufacturing Cluster, my own businesses, and those across Lancashire and the UK, I am calling for targeted support for SMEs to protect advanced manufacturing jobs which are the backbone of our region.

"Aerospace and automotive sectors are particularly badly affected and with the end of furlough looming and increased lockdown restrictions.

“We need our MPs and local and central government to work to protect business and jobs and avoid the catastrophic impact that widespread redundancies could have locally and the loss of capacity and capability to the UK."

The group also aims to provide a point of contact for firms to come together and support their local NHS Trust, allowing companies to donate PPE or other useful equipment.

The manufacturing industry has, like the hospitality sector, been particularly hard hit by the pandemic with hundreds of jobs lost in the region.

As such, industry leaders will hope the manufacturing cluster will provide new impetus for state support.

Jon Hoyle, managing director of Pendle-based Bright Engineering, echoed these sentiments.

He said: "Demand in many technology sectors is currently affected by the virus and small and medium sized companies need continued government support to navigate their way through the crisis.

"We need to avoid SMEs feeling that their only option is to make wholesale cuts to staffing levels.

"This would be disastrous for the economy, the area, jobs and skills in the longer-term."

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