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British Furniture Confederation: Quarterly Activity Review

All-Party Parliamentary Furniture Industry Group Meeting

The All-Party Parliamentary Furniture Industry Group (APPFIG) met on 20 October 2021 to discuss the latest political and policy developments of relevance to the furniture and furnishings industry, and what further action the Government could take to support the sector.  The meeting was led by Mike Wood MP, Chair of the APPFIG, and was attended by Vice-Chair of the APPFIG, Mark Eastwood MP. Recent changes made to the Government’s ministerial team, following the ministerial reshuffle announced in September, were discussed.  It was also noted that Vice-Chair, Mark Eastwood MP, had been appointed UK Trade Envoy to Pakistan.

Mike Wood MP agreed to seek a meeting for the Group with two new Ministers - Alex Burghart MP (Minister for Skills) and Mike Freer MP (Minister for Exports).  Mark Eastwood MP also agreed to  recruit more Members of Parliament to the Group who had furniture and furnishings businesses in their constituencies. 

The next meeting of the APPFIG will be confirmed shortly with Mike Wood MP keen for this to be held in person at the Houses of Parliament rather than virtually (subject to Covid restrictions).

DEFRA study into POPs in domestic upholstery waste

On 21 October 2021, DEFRA circulated the results of a study into whether chemicals listed as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) were likely to be found in the domestic seating waste stream. The BFC (represented by technical personnel from NBF, BFM and FIRA) sat on the working group to represent the furniture manufacturing sector.

One of the main chemicals that was historically used in back coatings for upholstery fabric was Deca BDE which was banned from use in new products and listed as a POP in 2019. The study has shown that these POPs were found to be present in samples taken from the waste stream and often above legal limits for waste, which means they must be destroyed in a specific manner and cannot be recycled.

It is important to stress that it is only upholstery at the end of life and classified as waste that is impacted.  DEFRA has stated it will be working closely with the waste industry and others affected on how to respond to the results of this study and its implications.

The BFC prepared a guidance note to help answer any questions arising from the study, which can be accessed on the BFC website.

The Comprehensive Spending Review and Autumn Budget 2021

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak MP, delivered his Comprehensive Spending Review and 2021 Autumn Budget on 27 October 2021. Key announcements relevant to the BFC included:

  • Extending the temporary £1 million level of the Annual Investment Allowance to 31 March 2023. This will provide businesses with more upfront support, encouraging them to bring forward investment, and making tax simpler for any business investing between £200,000 and £1 million.
  • An extension of the Recovery Loan Scheme to 30 June 2022 to ensure that lenders continue to have the confidence to lend to small and medium-sized businesses.
  • Increasing apprenticeships funding to £2.7 billion by 2024-25 – the first increase since 2019-20. As part of this, the Government is continuing to meet 95% of the apprenticeship training cost for employers who do not pay the Apprenticeship Levy.

DIT Policy Paper: Made in the UK, Sold to the World

On 19 November 2021, the Department for International Trade published a new strategy to boost exports. The 12 point plan included the following three measures:

“We will champion the government’s priority sectors through our innovative campaign Made in the UK, Sold to the World.

“We are piloting our UK Tradeshow Programme (UKTP) to propel our efforts and promote Team UK at the world’s largest tradeshows.

“We will put exporting at the heart of reforms to regulations, cross-government measures and regulatory diplomacy to help foster the conditions for exporting businesses to thrive.”

Following the publication, the BFC agreed to discuss the plan in more detail at the next meeting of the BFC Executive and agree next steps.

Ongoing meetings with Paul Scully MP, Minister for Small Businesses, Consumers and Labour Markets

The BFC engages with Paul Scully MP and his team in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, on a regular basis.  In the calls, Jonathan Hindle continues to raise issues of concern to the furniture industry including the fragility of the recovery with furniture manufacturers under extreme pressure from labour shortages, energy price rises and supply chain difficulties.

Prior to 17 November meeting, BFM provided insight to BEIS from its survey of members in October.  This found that:

  • Labour costs were on the rise. A balance of 79% reported increased labour costs and 75% expected further rises as we go through the winter period.
  • Skill shortages were reported by more than three quarters of respondents and in many cases the lack of suitable labour was severe.
  • An average cost increase in excess of 20% was reported for Board, Plywood, Timber, Steel and Springs. And, across all materials covered in the survey, the average increase stated was 15%, up from 8% recorded in April, with surcharges being applied to some materials. 
  • This led to a significant proportion of manufacturers to raise product prices, further driving inflation.

Continuing engagement with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The BFC has continued to liaise with Civil Servants in BEIS to ensure that the concerns and issues facing the industry are brought to the immediate attention of ministers. The BFC has raised concerns with civil servants about labour shortages, business rates relief, future of the super-deduction, skills and training, cost of energy, and supply chain challenges.

Environmental Survey

In December, the members of the BFC collectively circulated a link to a comprehensive benchmarking survey about environmental activity in the sector. Results of the survey are expected end of January 2022.