UK plastics: confidence high but plateauing

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Business confidence among United Kingdom plastics companies remains high but has “leveled off” in the last six months, according to new research from the British Plastics Federation published today.

The BPF's latest Business Conditions survey found that 72 percent of respondents expected to see an increase in U.K. sales in the coming year, vs. a 73 percent figure recorded in January.

The percentage of companies expecting profits to rise in the next 12 months dipped from 49 percent in January’s survey to 46 percent.

Philip Law, the BPF’s director-general, said the overall message was that the level of business confidence remained high “but has reached a plateau, at least momentarily.”

Exporters believed their prospects had also leveled out, with 56 percent expecting sales to remain the same in the coming 12 months, vs. 50 percent in January.

The survey reinforced what appeared to be a perennial problem for the sector, namely the recruitment of suitably skilled staff.

Nearly half — 49 percent — of companies expected their employee levels to stay static, and of those looking to recruit a similar figure, 48 percent, admitted they were “having difficulties” in finding the right candidate.

Technical managers were particularly hard to source, the BPF said, followed by sales people. A quarter of firms said apprentices were hard to recruit.

The survey said the number of companies having problems finding the right caliber of personnel was “worrying and is a clear sign of the growing skills shortage,” with the percentage of such responses rising steadily in recent years.

More positively, the BPF found that investment intentions were growing, with 42 percent of respondents planning what they described as “significant investments,” up from 36 percent in January 2014 and 31 percent in January last year.

And getting access to funding appeared to be a minor issue for companies, with 93 percent experiencing no problems in obtaining a loan and only 1 percent saying they had been refused a facility.

Meanwhile the prospect of an independent Scotland on the horizon failed to faze firms, with nearly half (48 percent) believing it would have no effect on their business, 22 percent saying it would be a negative move for them and only 4 percent arguing it would positively benefit their operation.

The BPF found the most optimistic operators in the industry to be injection molders, windows, packaging and pipe companies.