Manufacturing businesses are set to fold as the coronavirus pandemic takes its toll on Cumbria’s economy, says a well-known figure in the sector.

However, Chris Ward, who is the ambassador for manufacturing and productivity for the Cumbria branch of the Institute of Directors, says to ride out the crisis it is vital for firms to work together and not “pitch against” each other.

Manufacturers large and small have closed in the county, while others have continued production.

Paper maker Kimberly-Clark, in Barrow, is one site that has accelerated its operation due to demand for loo roll.

James Cropper Plc, in Burneside, near Kendal, is also continuing to operate.

As well as making luxury papers, its Technical Fibre Products arm makes specialised materials for use in a range of sectors.

Chief executive Phil Wild said: “We are following the rules set out by the government and for now are continuing to manufacture. Across our three businesses, we are a supplier to essential defence, medical and packaging sectors.

“Of course, our priority is the health and wellbeing of our employees and their families and as such all staff who can, are now working from home.

“The only employees working on site are those with production roles, or roles which directly support our manufacturing. All team members on site are stringently following the social distancing protocol.”

Chris said there was “uncertainty like no uncertainty we have faced before”.

“We don’t have any control because we are depending on what other countries do and what the virus itself does and how people react to the circumstances.”

He says there is no doubt that - despite offers of Government support - some manufacturers will fold.

“I definitely think we are going to lose some of our manufacturing businesses,” he said.

“There is a spectrum where some at one end are not really viable even in the good times. They just survive one month to another.

“Some businesses are doing a roaring trade and others have dropped off the edge of a cliff.

“It really depends on the industry that they are servicing.

“If you are doing well then it’s extraordinary times and probably what you are doing is stressing about how you are going to keep staff safe from infection.”

Busy manufacturers may also be facing issues sourcing components from China as the country has been “switched off” for three months.

For some manufacturers, practising social distancing at work was also impossible.

However, the key thing to keep businesses afloat was to retain as much ready cash as possible.

“Cash is king,” said Chris.

“Right now, that’s the thing that will send businesses under. Cash is like water and profit is like food.

“You can survive without food for a little bit, but if you run out of water you’ve had it.”

However, there was a risk that if everyone began withholding payments throughout a supply chain this would have serious knock-on effects.

“If they start using the supply chain as a bank than a provider of products then it could be a problem,” said.

It is also vital to engage with staff and understand their needs, says Chris.

“Really get to understand what their circumstances are and what the current situation means for them so we can really work together,” he says.

“That might unfortunately mean laying off some people and reducing hours, or it may not.”

Potential positives were the drop in the oil price - currently at aroundn $25 a barrel - which could allow for a quicker recovery once world trade resumed.

Another effect could be manufacturers turning away from China to source from UK suppliers, something which Chris says can stand them in better stead for the future.

“From an agile perspective it’s for better to be closer to the market even if the factory gate price is a little higher,” he says.

He added that usinesses that ride out the crisis and survive are likely to be in even better shape and go from “strength to strength”.

“I think what we must remember to do is to stop clamouring to be treated as a special case,” he said.

“What we don’t want is sectors pitching against each other. We really do have to pull together.”