Page last updated at 10:22 GMT, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Fragile recovery for Welsh manufacturers

By Mark Hutchings
BBC Radio 5 live, mid-Wales

Ricky Lee Griffths and Andrew Farthing
Work is picking up but the future remains fragile at GSM Primographic

It's slow progress, but one mid-Wales firm making go-faster stripes is starting to benefit from gentle economic acceleration.

With orders picking up, GSM Primographic has reverted to a five-day week and re-employed four of the nine workers it laid off a year ago.

Andrew Farthing is general manager of the Brecon-based company that makes a range of labels and nameplates, principally for the car industry - customers such as Ford, BMW and Nissan.

"We're starting to recover," he says.

"We went through difficult times at the back end of 2008 and into 2009 when we lost 20% of our workforce, with orders down by over 40%.

"But now we've seen our work recover and the industry is looking positive for us."


He says it was a fantastic feeling being able to take staff back on to join the 50-strong workforce, but stresses the current economic recovery is fragile.

Forward orders, that were once highlighted several months ahead, are now down to a month in advance.

Managers say that over the past 18 months they have tried to be more innovative in order to survive the recession.

They are starting to reap the benefits with improving European trade, though domestic interest is slower to pick up.

"We've learned to appreciate the good times that we've had," says Andrew Farthing.

Staff at GSM Primographic
With orders on the up, GSM can take on more staff

"There is an obvious need to develop and invest in product, equipment and the people that we have."

He admits that, like any suppliers, his firm is dependent on the fortunes of other companies as there is always the fear that trade could suddenly slip into reverse.

But, for now, business is heading in the right direction.

While GSM Primographic is one company that has been able to re-employ staff, for many others that is still wishful thinking.


Official figures suggest that manufacturing in Wales has fallen by 12% over the past year.

Anecdotally, some industry experts believe the decline could be as great as 20%.

Last week, Bosch announced they would be transferring work to Hungary from their giant plant near Cardiff, with the loss of 900 jobs - a further sign of the appeal of low-wage economies overseas.

"There's not a lot out there. I will take absolutely anything"
Geoff Lyons, former car components firm worker

Geoff Lyons, from Rhymney, has become something of an expert in the state of Welsh manufacturing since he lost his job with car components firm Continental Teves in August 2008.

He can testify more than most that the recession has left its mark.

A back-to-work scheme has helped Geoff pick up some security jobs, and he has just sent out applications in response to four more adverts.

He recently found work as an extra in a new film starring Bob Hoskins, but a movie career looks unlikely.

So the job-hunting continues and the prospect of full-time employment in manufacturing looks as distant as ever.

"There's not a lot out there," Geoff says. "I will take absolutely anything.

"I'm 45 years old and, to coin a phrase, I'm used to bringing home the bacon," he adds.

"I want to be a working person - so I can hold my head up high and say: 'Yeah, I'm in work'.

"The chance is all I need."

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