THE Scottish Government should allow all engineering firms to reopen in line with the approach in England to ease the strains caused by the coronavirus as most prepare to shed jobs, industry leaders have said.

Scottish Engineering said four out of five companies in the sector think they will likely reduce employee numbers in the next six months as the fallout from the virus hammers the sector.

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The latest Quarterly Review by the body found there had been a dramatic fall in confidence among sector players as orders plunged in the UK and export markets.

Lockdowns imposed to slow the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus have led to a slump in demand and also caused huge disruption to supply chains.

“Covid-19 has been an economic tornado, both in the pace and impact that it is causing, and these results make crystal clear the need for rapid recovery actions as soon as public health considerations allow,” said Scottish Engineering chief executive Paul Sheerin.

He expressed concern that the recovery effort in Scotland could be hampered by delays in lifting lockdown measures in the country compared to England.

The Scottish Government has said that what are classed as non-essential manufacturing operations should remain closed until phase two of the lockdown easing. Phase one is due to start today and measures must be reviewed every three weeks.

Comparable businesses in England were allowed to reopen from May 13 under Boris Johnson’s plan to get the country back to work.

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Mr Sheerin said that to minimise the impact of the coronavirus on the sector the priority would be for government guidance to manufacturers across the UK to re-align and stay aligned.

Mr Sheerin said he understood and agreed with the Scottish Government’s focus on public health and had only praise for the leadership. He said this has been consistent and clear in ways that others have not.

However, he added: “The potential for damage to the manufacturing sector is too great if Scotland earns a tag that it is closed for business whilst the rest of the UK is not, and I would argue that both the public health priority and guidance alignment can be jointly achieved without detriment to each other.”

Mr Sheerin said the potential for operations in Scotland to suffer disadvantage as a result of the country being out of step was really concerning. Some firms have operations on both sides of the border.

Mr Sheerin believes the space available in most engineering workplaces means firms can ensure people should be able to work in them safely. Businesses in the sector are used to carrying out risk assessments.

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Scottish Engineering reckons around 70 per cent of manufacturers have remained open since the start of the crisis with an estimated 90% operating in some form currently.

Mr Sheerin said the support provided for firms to retain staff under the coronavirus furlough programme and loan schemes have provided lifelines for companies. The UK Government should consider refining the support provided to ensure that firms in sectors that may face the greatest problems after the schemes are currently due to end are not disadvantaged.

The furlough programme is due to run until October. It was reported yesterday that the Chancellor will require firms to cover some of the associated costs from August.

Firms in sectors such as oil and gas and civil aviation could find the trading situation becomes increasingly challenging.

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Mr Sheerin said the UK Government should put the Brexit process on hold as it will only add to the negative economic impact of Covid-19.

Scottish Engineering said order intake, output volume, exports and staffing had all dipped to quarterly lows.

Orders and output fell for at least 60% of companies.

Orders fell in the UK and overseas for a clear majority of firms of all sizes. Orders fell for firms in all the sub-sectors covered by the survey.

A majority of firms expect orders to fall in the current quarter.

A net balance of 63% of companies said they had become less confident. In the preceding quarter a balance of 17% had become more confident.

A net balance of 27% of firms reduced staff numbers in the latest quarter.

Four out of five companies are considering redundancies in the next 12 months. Scottish Engineering said 72% expect to reduce training and apprenticeship plans to ensure business survival.

The position regarding non-essential manufacturers is the same in Wales and Northern Ireland as in Scotland.