22 March 2020 Business

Covid-19: Federations make appeal over virus impact

The UK's print organisations are seeking government help as Covid-19 threatens to wipe out a swathe of print businesses.

The UK’s print organisations are gathering data about the current and expected impact of the coronavirus and actions to prevent its spread.

The Depart of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy is compiling information from across the UK in order to guide government policy. The BPIF has further called for immediate government action to relieve the plight of printers across the spectrum. It will send out a business impact questionnaire today (Monday).

Ahead of the Chancellor’s statement on Friday, the federation called for an extension of business rates relief, expanding the definition of key workers to include skilled workers in key supply chains in the print and packaging sector, deferment of VAT, PAYE and NIC payments and a six months’ delay to the introduction of the minimum wage.

Charles Jarrold, CEO says: “The impact of Covid-19 is equivalent to a natural disaster. Targeted and intense Government support to those businesses and individuals in need will minimise the biggest harms and enable our industry, and the economy, to recover more quickly once we are through the worst.”

The BAPC and IPIA working in concert, believes that the harmful impact is being felt by around 6,000 of the 8,400 businesses it reckons constitute the UK printing industry. And it argues that a drop in demand for print is not a delayed demand. Once a business or consumer turns away from print, there may be no return. At best when demand returns it will return at the pre crisis level, meaning that printers cannot increase sales to afford repayments on a government loan if taken out.

The BPIF has set up a daily email to keep its members abreast of developments and to answer the flood of questions that are being received, and offering legal and HR advice.

The company’s London office in St Bride’s has shut and staff there are home working. While the head office in Meridan remained open last week, this week it too will shift to remote working.

Other suppliers to the industry are following suit with remote working instigated in the UK. Equipment manufacturers meanwhile are preparing to close down in line with directives from their authorities. Heidelberg's giant Wiesloch plant is likely to close this week, while Durst, whose factory is close to ground zero in Austria, has already shut its doors.

Suppliers in Italy have born the brunt of efforts to curb the spread of the virus, while also trying to remain open for business. Papermaker Fedrigoni, for example, has continued to operate its mills in the Verona area of northern Italy. Last week its London sales office issues a statement that production and distribution continued as normal. However external sales team meetings were being replaced by phone, video or virtual meetings. The internal sales team has started to work remotely.

Not all have been as determined to carry on as Fedrigoni. Lecta has shut production at its Cartiere del Garda mill while Burgo has suspended production at its Ardennes mill in Belgium while continuing to operate its mills in Italy.

Acimga, the association for the Italian print supply industry, has reported that nine in ten member companies are operating without suspending employment. But in machine manufacturing, a third of companies are noting a 50-75% decline in production, due to a fall in incoming orders.

Aldo Peretti, CEO of Uteco and president of Acimga, says that remote monitoring and service of machines through Industry 4.0 has eased the problems of servicing machines. “Thanks to these services, we can ensure that packaging machines will not stop in case of problems. This is no longer just a commercial service; it has become almost a social service. The food and drug supply chain must not stop and we too must do our part.”

Acimga is also calling for a medical pass that can be carried by engineers and technicians called to service machines outside the country. An internationally recognised pass would certify the good health of the carrier and permit installations or service calls to continue.

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Aldo Peretti

Aldo Peretti

Aldo Peretti, as president of Acimga, has appealed for an international certificate to show that an engineer travelling internationally has a clean bill of health as companies start to consider what happens after the virus abates.

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