A Christmas message from the BFPA’s CEO

18 Dec 2020

As we approach the end of the year it would be a gross understatement to say that this has been one of the more challenging periods in the history of your Association. 2020 has been, without doubt, the most life changing twelve months in our 61-year history and has even made the depression of 2009 look relatively insignificant. Nobody has been spared from the disruption, sadness and indeed economic crisis accompanying the global COVID-19 Pandemic.

Yet amid this distress, we have seen the absolute best coming from our BFPA community. We’ve seen compassion as members have sought to help each other and the heroic efforts of the NHS by providing PPE and ventilator technology. We’ve seen your ability to adapt to new ways of working and we’ve seen your resolve to keep moving forwards during a period when for some, time seems to have all but stopped. 2020 has been a rollercoaster journey with a benign beginning that turned into a nightmare ride and one that has lasted longer than any of us expected.

For many politicians and civil servants, 2020 was a major revelation in that they witnessed the rise and resilience of UK manufacturing and distribution as it steamed-on inexorably through the challenges presented by COVID-19 whilst the much-acclaimed general Service sector, through no fault of their own, was collapsing and only surviving through very heavy use of the many Government support schemes. To a great extent, those same politicians who privately regarded the manufacturing and distribution sector; our sector, as being only 15% of UK GDP (and therefore not very important), are now acknowledging that to a great extent, our sector has been the backbone of what was the UK resilience throughout the Pandemic and will be the driver for the UK economic recovery going forwards.   Never before have we had such a high level of engagement with Government and I have personally had conversations with senior politicians who have fundamentally changed their views on the role of what we might call our Machinery and Component Supply Chain sector.   Throughout this year, most BFPA members managed to stay open and maintain a very credible level of productivity. You will recall that early on in the Pandemic we managed to secure an endorsement from the Secretary of State and many of our members staff were given key-worker status. Yes – it has been hard but as we come to the end of the year, many members are reporting a return to revenue figures not dissimilar to pre-COVID levels. As we go into 2021 and the impact of the much-needed vaccination campaign begins to grow, the momentum associated with this recovery will inevitably increase and whilst most believe it will be 2022 before we are fully back to normal operating levels, I think that the performance of our sector in the face of what has been an enormous global crisis has been a credit to the staff and management steering our member companies.

In any review of 2020 it would be naïve of me not to refer to the somewhat obvious fact that we also have the added burden of Brexit. Whether we are from the ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ camps, or indeed destined to remain in the EU such as our Irish members, we all recognise that there will be some choppy waters to navigate over the next twelve months. I remain confident that as they have over COVID-19, our members will rise to the challenge and emerge all the stronger. As the old cliché states, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ and whilst many members are having to stock-pile and now in some cases, weather instabilities in their supply chain, many of the changes that we have adopted over 2020 will persist into the future and make us better equipped to cope with the new ‘post-Brexit; ‘post COVID-19’ world in which we will have to operate.

At the BFPA, like our members, we have also had to adapt our way of working and I hope that you have seen the many ways in which we have sought to stay ‘in-step’ with our members and continue to meet their needs. Like many of you, we have had to make overhead cuts and savings where we can. Indeed, some of the planned projects for 2020 have had to be postponed but we have continued to maintain a strong membership service and I hope that you have witnessed the various ways in which we have sought to support our members through this tough period. Our ever-growing training was the first thing to be hit but we have now adapted and introduced a growing suite of on-line training courses to meet member demands. We have continued to develop our Quality schemes such as the Hose Accreditation scheme; we have continued to deliver market statistics to help members benchmark themselves in the wider industry context; we have introduced new webinars on topics requested by members such as staff well-being and welfare and sales management and training – and like our members we have made full use of the many video platforms to continue with our meetings during remote working – not least of all the Technical standards committee meetings.   It is true to say that member engagement has never been greater and long may it continue.   I am personally indebted to the many members who maintained a steady stream of queries relating to both the Pandemic and Brexit which of course resulted in the establishment of the COVID-19 and the BREXIT Bulletins, both of which have now passed their seventieth editions! (Please keep those queries coming – that is what we are here for!)

I have referenced several cliché’s in this message so I hope you will forgive me if I use one more; ‘When the going gets tough – the tough get going!’ Yes; I know that it is ‘corny and old-hat’ but as you will have heard me say many times; clichés are only clichés because they are generally true! When I look at how BFPA members have navigated their way through 2020 I have no hesitation in branding them ‘tough’ and they are certainly ‘getting going!!’ We should be proud of our sector. Your Association will continue to be with you every step of the way and on behalf of myself and the staff at the BFPA I would wish every member a very Happy and as far as we can make it so, Merry, Christmas. May you and your loved ones stay healthy and safe and I look forward to a time when we can regularly meet in person once again.

Very best wishes for the Season,

Christopher Buxton