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Plastics manufacturer Sinclair & Rush in Maidstone among Kent companies remaining cautious as UK emerges from six-year economic depression

By Chris Price

Plastics manufacturer Sinclair & Rush had already made its big move of the year before the nation’s exit from the biggest downturn in living memory, caused by the mother of all banking and financial crises.

The Maidstone-based European arm of the international company acquired its Kent rival Component Force in Rochester in March, as the manufacturing sector continued to go from strength to strength.

Then the news came that it was all over –the country has left the economic mire. Yet managing director Peter Boulton has left the champagne on ice for now.

The Maidstone base of Sinclair and Rush

“It’s very easy to be over optimistic at the end of a recession but I think cautious optimism is where we are at now,” said Mr Boulton, who leads the European arm of the global firm.

“If you look at history, after each recessionary period there tends to be a boom that follows it.

“I don’t know if that is the right word to use at this moment but experts suggest that after each recession in the last 100 years there has been a concerted growth period of about 18 years before going back into recession.

“We are taking the view that with cautious optimism we are pulling out and that future growth is ahead of us.”

Sinclair and Rush managing director Peter Boulton

Mr Boulton is right to be careful. Although there has been a steady increase in manufacturing, the sector’s total output is still about 7% down across the UK compared to pre-recession levels.

“You have to bear in mind that a lot of manufacturers are exporters and they have had their own challenges with the strong pound and what is happening in the Eurozone,” said Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce chief executive Jo James.

“A lot more exporting is going on to wider markets outside Europe like Mexico, China and Turkey.

“That is something we have been going on about for a long time. Kent has historically been low on exports but that trend is being reversed.”

Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce chief executive Jo James says manufacturing is becoming increasingly important to the Kent economy

It is not all Bah! Humbug! to the UK’s official exit from the depression. More than half of respondents to the British Chamber of Commerce’s Quarterly Economic Survey said they had seen increases in sales. The service sector’s growth is 2% higher than levels in 2008.

Kent and Medway Economic Partnership chairman Geoff Miles said: “In reading what businesses are saying, it definitely looks like everyone is feeling better.

“They are not out of the woods but they are feeling better. There is significant optimism.”

"Manufacturing is fast becoming a big part of the Kent economy and an area with potential for growth..." - Kent Invicta Chamber's Jo James

Yet many key issues still need to be addressed.

Mrs James added: “Cashflow is still a problem. At its worse 34% of firms had cashflow issues and that is down to 20%. Another issue is access to finance.

“The issue that needs addressing if we are to get growth is skills.

“The construction industry was one of the first hit and businesses scaled back because the market was not there.

“Therefore there were no young people coming into the industry. Now they are moving forward but have not got the people to meet the demand.

“The construction industry is important because it is a big sector in Kent economically.

“But overall business confidence is at an all-time high. Manufacturing is fast becoming a big part of the Kent economy and an area with potential for growth.

“We already focus on leisure, tourism, creative and high-tech but if we focus on manufacturing we have a good opportunity to build on.

“Overall it is quite a positive picture for Kent businesses, particularly in services and manufacturing.”

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