Welcome 2022 – what are the challenges for the year ahead?

By Andy Whittard

I always feel that January is an odd month, we can hang onto the comfort of Christmas and the undoubted welcome break we enjoyed, yet it is a time for looking forward into the new year, hopefully with optimism!

2021 was another difficult year as we remained very much in the grips of the Covid pandemic. 12 months ago, things were quite different as the Delta variant resulted in a further lockdown. Now it is Omicron, but thankfully this variant appears to cause less severe infections. And it seems clear that government is starting to prepare us for life with Covid with the recent relaxation of isolation and testing requirements to allow business and communities to return to normal more quickly.

The last two years have taught us all new skills, the most obvious being with IT and video conferencing. However, the true lessons are around resilience and flexibility – both key elements within any business. The resilience to bounce back, can be exhausting and support for those businesses heavily impacted by lockdown will continue to be key. After all the SME sector is the engine room of the UK economy, accounting for 99% of businesses and employing 3/5ths of all workers, fuelling this sector will ultimately drive the recovery.

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And the other factor continues be the UK’s ability to export post Brexit. Our business, like most, has suffered with increased costs and delays to movement of goods. Whilst these issues have eased, international trade is now much more complicated and time consuming than before. However, I believe there is still great demand for UK product, export trade is worth approximately £30bn per month with almost half being with the EU. However, UK business needs to be more efficient in minimising costs.

This drive for efficiency will require continued investment in technology and high calibre people. Cherwell’s investment in an ERP system over the past 3 years is starting to reap rewards as we develop a greater understanding of the key success factors within our business. Retaining and attracting talent to use this data is another key factor. The labour market is different as a result of the pandemic, there are currently over 1.1 million job vacancies, a record. Therefore, as employers we need to be clear about our values, our brand, to ensure we attract the right people, but also that we look after our existing staff.

Our industry is also facing change with the pending release of the much discussed and reviewed new Annex 1 of EU GMP. The new document places a greater emphasis on risk management and facility wide control strategies as well as the concept of continuous monitoring, how these changes will actually impact manufacturers and what time frame will be allowed to adopt new practices is not yet clear.

Despite all this change and uncertainty, we are ambitious for the future and see opportunity for growth. That flexibility that I mentioned earlier will be key as we adapt to changing needs within our market, possibly caused by Annex 1, and the new world post Covid. However, some things don’t change, a great customer experience remains crucial even if expectations continue to change.

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