Soaring energy prices, commercial vehicle production hits its highest level in six years and solar panel supply chains come under scrutiny in this month’s news roundup.

Public sector
The UK public sector has so far spent £13 million supporting the Ukrainian people following the Russian invasion, according to new data from consultants Tussell. The list of 18 contracts published by the government includes a total of £6.1 million for generators, £3.5 million from the Welsh Government for emergency refugee housing and a £1.1 million project to prevent illegally harvested Ukrainian timber reaching world markets.

Digital technology has a key role to play in helping public-sector organisations recruit and retain the best people, in addition to offering efficiency benefits, a senior IT leader has said. Implementing open systems that allow suppliers and other stakeholders to integrate with organisations is a key priority for 2022, along with improving employee experience and increasing business agility.

Two pharmaceutical firms have been fined a total of £70m by the UK competition watchdog for abusing their dominant market position to overcharge the NHS for a life-saving epilepsy drug. The Competition and Markets Authority fined Pfizer £63m and Flynn £6.7m after NHS costs for the drug increased by 2,500% in just one year.

“Public-sector organisations have a lot to gain from embracing digital technology in their work with suppliers,” said RS Industry Sector Manager Damian Wynne. “At the end of the day, there is no substitute for working closely with a trusted dependable supplier who shares your goals and ethos.”

Utilities and power
The UK needs a rapid expansion in electricity generation capacity that must incentivise the use of flexible technologies, says a new report from trade body Energy UK. The report also calls for reform of the wholesale electricity market to improve efficiency and reduce costs ahead of expected rises in electricity demand.

The concentration of solar panel supply chains in a few countries is a threat to world energy security, according to a report by the International Energy Agency. “The level of geographical concentration in global supply chains also creates potential challenges that governments need to address,” it says.

The UK government has published proposals to end the automatic right of developers to connect new drainage systems to sewer networks. This follows the pollution of beaches after heavy rainfall caused system overflows following this summer’s drought.

“The current situation has focused attention on the importance of utility companies and the power industry having access to reliable MRO supplies,” said RS Industry Sector Manager Chris Cruise. “At RS, we’re working closely with our customers in these sectors to help them keep the lights on and the water flowing.”

Process manufacturing
This summer’s extreme heat in some parts of the UK led to increased levels of inspection and maintenance for food industry refrigeration systems, according to the Cold Chain Federation. Tom Southall, the Federation’s Policy Director, told Food Manufacture magazine that the industry would be lobbying the government to guarantee energy supplies to food production in the event of power cuts this winter.

Britain’s independent brewers have called for urgent action on energy prices, which they say are putting the future of the UK beer industry at risk. The Society of Independent Brewers and real ale group CAMRA have called for the energy price cap to be extended to small businesses. They also fear the Conservative leadership change may delay a promised 5% cut in the duty on beer sold in pubs.

Coca-Cola is giving suppliers access to preferential business finance in return for meeting sustainability targets, as part of a new initiative. Any suppliers in Europe, Australia and New Zealand will eventually be eligible to apply for the scheme, which is being run in conjunction with Netherlands-based Rabobank.

“Finding ways to reduce energy use in process manufacturing is a hotter topic than ever given concerns around inflationary pressure,” said RS Industry Sector Manager Craig Stasik. “At RS, we can help our customers to find the right solutions for their unique needs, managing costs and meeting environmental goals.”

The trend for UK companies to switch previously offshored manufacturing back to the UK is driving the growth of sheet-metal fabricator Universal Wolf, which has announced a doubling of the workforce at its factory in Blyth, Northumberland. Managing Director Tim Rutter told manufacturing news outlet Zenoot that companies are bringing their supply chains back to the UK to improve resilience. “Reshoring has been a key conversation as companies look to shorten and add more capacity to their supply chains,” he added.

Sheffield Forgemasters, which makes essential parts for the UK armed forces, celebrated the first anniversary of its takeover by the Ministry of Defence in late August by announcing £400m of new investment, which includes a new forge building in the city.

Make UK is hosting a series of regional dinners for winners of the organisation’s Manufacturing Awards 2022, which recognise the achievements of manufacturers and their apprentices who have done exceptional work in the sector. The events run throughout October and November.

“World events have focused attention on the resilience of supply chains, and here at RS we have redoubled our efforts to ensure that we have what our customers need when they need it,” said RS Industry Sector Manager Richard Graham.

Transport and defence
UK commercial vehicle makers recorded an 11th month of continuous production growth in July, hitting output levels not seen since 2016, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. They produced a total of 8,097 vehicles during the month, up by almost 44% on the year.

Mergers between key suppliers to the HS2 rail project could lead to higher prices and further cost overruns, the UK’s competition watchdog has warned. The Competition and Markets Authority says reduced competition among suppliers of overhead power equipment could push up costs.

The UK aerospace industry has achieved its highest single-month sales since 2014. Industry trade body ADS said a total of 531 aircraft with a combined value of £5.5 billion were ordered in July. Sales were boosted by the Farnborough International Airshow, the UK’s largest trade show and the first major European airshow to be staged since 2019.

“It’s very encouraging to see aerospace and vehicle production performing so strongly despite the prevailing economic conditions,” said RS Industry Sector Manager Greg Sharp. “We are working alongside our customers to ensure that supply chains are functioning effectively to support continued growth.”