Industry beginning to “show signs of recovery”

As one of the most experienced managing directors in the UK, Richard Jackson admits that his predictions for 2009 were somewhat “short of the mark”.

He pessimistically forecast a downturn for almost every sector of the Jacksons business and he had been ready to take some “difficult decisions” in line with many others in the trade.

“Yes, I did not think that any sector would be able to maintain share and that domestic through to security would be hit. Indeed, my gut feeling was that if there was to be light in a very gloomy tunnel it was going to be steel that would hold its own and we would have very little choice but to look carefully at our other products.”

Into the first quarter of 2010 and Jackson quips – “well I got that one wrong didn’t I. Just shows what I know”. Timber has shown a resilience that few, and especially Jackson, would have through possible in an economic climate that has left some deep scars in the industry.

“It’s timber that has held up well and steel has suffered most – but it doesn’t mean to say that I am going to hand in my resignation as chairman because I got it wrong”.

Jacksons had seen the dark clouds gathering and, like many other companies, began to ready itself for the economic storm that was on the way.

“We sat down and made the difficult decisions. We trimmed where we had to and that wasn’t easy, but also invested where we could in parts of the business where we saw that there were opportunities. But that’s probably the same as any number of companies.”

Throughout the industry margins have been squeezed and the ever out spoken Jackson has no qualms in taking the Government to task for not giving greater assistance.

“There was help when it was really tough with deferment of tax burdens and with VAT. It simply did not go far enough in giving industry in general what it needed and now pressure is being bought to bear for not only deferred payments to be made but current liabilities. There will be some that will fall by the wayside.” Raw material manufacturers do not escape Jackson’s wrath either. “Some used the opportunity to cut back on production citing demand as having decreased and then upped the cost. That really is not helpful and leaves rather a bad taste in the mouth.”

Recovery in terms of enquiries and activity came towards the latter part of October and early November, and Jackson is of the view that the industry is beginning to pick up. “Most of the major public sector projects together with utilities have been ring-fenced, but others have been far more at risk. These have tended to be put on hold. It’s been a balancing act really, but with diversity this has kept companies like ours robust in this very volatile climate. I would suspect that it will remain very up and down and the price competitive market will hit some more than others. Those that have tendered at cost are quickly hitting the buffers, but their pricing legacy remains and that hits everyone involved in fencing.”

Yet it is more optimistic Jackson who looks to the future and he admits there is a broader smile of his face now than there was nine months ago. “There are definite signs and while that may take time to come through, there’s no denying that we re seeing much more activity and that makes me far more confident”.