The sudden announcement by the Government on Sunday that certain sectors of the economy should look to re-open as early as Wednesday, 13th May has caught businesses on the hop.
Many organisations had planned to re-open from Monday, 1st June onwards and had geared their PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) requirements and new safe-distancing practices accordingly. Understandably, these are only partially in place and this has created a gap in PPE requirements, which sadly the supply chain are exploiting unfairly.
PPE equipment such as masks and gloves are now being sold at 5-6 times the price than they were in early March, as speculators and stockpilers look to cash in on their calculated gamble of procuring supplies, knowing full well that if you don’t take it now, then someone else will and….. in the next 24 hours! After that, a new offer is put on the table with the temptation for you to press the order button because the offer is couched with the gnawing caveat of ‘whilst stocks last’.
What certain operators in the supply chain fail to recognise or more likely choose to ignore, is that this is a matter of life and death and should not be an opportunity to maximise revenue from a shortage of supply and excessive demand.
Some suppliers are using PPE as a cash flow tool by taking payment in advance and then renege on delivery, forcing companies who have already made a significant outlay, for which there is no financial return, to look again to the market to plug the gap between now and their previously anticipated return to work in early June.
A number of UK textile suppliers that we talk to are keen to adapt their businesses to the manufacture of approved PPE equipment, but are hesitant in calling back furloughed staff in case the numbers don’t stack up. The irony here is that the generosity of the furlough scheme runs the risk of back-firing to the detriment of the economy and in this case, individual health and safety.
It could be argued that an interventionist approach is needed where the Government awards contracts to UK textile manufacturers to produce essential PPE to be sold at an agreed and fair price point or price bandwidth depending on product specification. And finally to guarantee payment to manufacturers.
This would create a much-needed boost to the UK textile industry, the demand is there and will be on-going. Organisations benefit from a readily available supply chain at a known price and workers will be safer from a range of products that meet a set performance and safety criteria.
As it stands, the free market, left to its own devices has presented the consumer, not only with limited supplies and eye-watering prices, but products with varying degrees of safety standards.