Thank you for your time, Andrew. First of all, what do you view as being the big topics up for debate this DPRTE?
What we have at the moment is a very nervous business community. There are those who are absolutely fine about Brexit and others who don’t have a clue what to do. We also have a number of businesses adopting what I would call an ostrich approach – head in the sand, not wanting to do anything until Brexit actually happens.
Obviously, country of origin is crucial where complex supply chains are concerned. And most of the defence sector – prime contractors and SMEs alike – have very complicated supply chains. All you need to do is look at the current armoured fighting vehicles, ships and planes – they’re not made in any one country. And so, when you cross the border post-Brexit, what’s going to happen to the tariffs? And if you cross the border more than once are you going to have tariffs stacking up each time? This level of uncertainty is a definite concern.
Before Christmas we also had a refresh of the MOD’s industrial policy. Clearly, we want to make sure that the MOD actually delivers on this, and a key consideration is SMEs in the supply chain. The government previously announced that there would be a significant increase in SME engagement but we feel the number is actually going down. This is only anecdotal evidence – the government has yet to publish any official figures – but the feedback we’re getting is that, in these austere times, Tier 1’s and prime contractors would rather do the work themselves than subcontract out.
I sit on the SME Defence Suppliers Forum and one of the things we are calling for is the actual figures to be released. The government says that the number of SMEs hasn’t changed but they haven’t told us that officially. Ultimately, the MOD and government’s delivery of refreshed industrial policy sounds great but the proof is in the pudding.
The other big topic, which will overshadow everything, is the Defence Modernisation Programme. We’ve got some big efficiencies on the way, regardless of whether the Defence Minister wins his battle with the Chancellor over budget uplift. The sooner that certainty is given, the better it will be for the industry right the way through the supply chain.
What are your own aspirations for the event? What does a successful show look like to you?
It’s about engaging with defence community, visiting our members and making new contacts. On a tactical level, it’s also about getting the NDI name out there and increasing our presence, both with existing and potential new members. We have a growing number of prime contractors in our member base and we will be representing these organisations to SMEs, which is what they want us to do. This is all part and parcel of our strategy and it’s why we’re involved with DPRTE.
What does NDI have in the pipeline this year? What can visitors expect to see?
NDI is part of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, which is classed as one of the big four trade bodies. We have weekly meetings with Business Secretary Greg Clark and Brexit Secretary David Davis; and monthly meetings with the Prime Minister. And so, as EEF, we’re very well connected at policy level.
As NDI we have regular meetings with ministers at the MOD, and we listen to the SME community to understand their concerns. We also link up with prime contractors and Tier 1’s to become their eyes, ears and collective voice as well.
What can people expect? Clearly, advice. We are running a whole load of events this year and so it’s all about informing existing and potential members what we will be doing. We’ve just held a very successful EEF event in London on 20 February and we’ll be promoting our NDI conference this November. 2018 is the centenary of the Royal Air Force so we’ll also have an RAF theme. However, given that we represent land, sea and air in addition to security, that anniversary will not overshadow the rest.
We’ll also be running more ‘Meet the Buyer ’events this year and, in partnership with prime contractors and Tier 1 organisations, we’ll hopefully be kick-starting a big programme with the Welsh Assembly. Ultimately, we will have realistic practical advice on how to supply not only to the MOD but also primes contractors and Tier 1’s.
Could you talk about the role events like DPRTE play in engaging with the wider defence community?
They’re hugely important. It’s very easy not to have a presence, to think that everybody knows who you are but before long you’re redundant. You’ve got to flex with the times and the needs of your customers. For us, our members are our customers. We’re a membership owned body governed by our members and our members want us at DPRTE. Therefore we’ll be there along with our membership. It’s about being there to support them while also getting our own message out there. Without engagement with the community we wouldn’t know what to do. It’s very important that we have that presence and visibility.
Lastly, where on the show floor can attendees find NDI?
We’re at stand 42. If people don’t know who we are or what we do, come talk to us. We’re part of a wider community within the EEF which a lot of businesses aren’t aware of. The NDI isn’t just about the defence industry; we’re part of a larger organisation and we have the weight of them behind us.
To hear more from the NDI and learn how your business can engage with the defence community, book your place at DPRTE 2018 now: http://www.dprte.co.uk/book-now/
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