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Our latest Top 30 Japanese companies in the UK shows a 1.3% drop overall in employee numbers from 2019 to 2020*, the first fall we have seen in the seven years we have been tracking the Top 30. As most Japanese companies in the UK use an April 1 to March 31 financial year, the fall in employee numbers dates to before COVID-19 pandemic began to have an impact. The small drop masks significant divergences – there were companies whose workforce shrank by over 10% such as Nissan, Honda and Nomura, and also companies which grew significantly, such as NTT and SoftBank.
This tallies with a recent report from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) which reported in March 2021 that whereas automotive sector companies have a bleak outlook on the UK market, manufacturers in sectors such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electrical machinery and foods are far more positive about future expansion in the UK. According to METI, manufacturers represent around 39% of Japanese companies in the UK, the remainder being in the services and wholesale sectors. Services sectors, particularly IT related, would seem to be positive too from our researches, apart from Fujitsu, which has slipped down a further place to being the 4th largest Japanese employer in the UK, having been the largest for many years previously, to 2017/8.
The 96,000 who work for the Top 30 Japanese companies in the UK represent around 55% of the 176,000 (down from 179,000 the previous year) or so people who work for over a 1,000 Japanese companies in the UK, according to our estimates. The METI survey shows that despite the small drop in the numbers employed by the Top 30, larger companies (defined by METI as having over £600m turnover) will have weathered Brexit far more easily than smaller ones, having the resources and networks to set up agents in the EU, stockpile and open up new logistics and warehousing hubs on the Continent.
Certainly the 50 or so Japanese companies that have withdrawn from the UK over 2019-20 have been smaller in size (under 50 employees) and the larger ones who have shut down operations have usually not withdrawn entirely but rather turned their subsidiaries into branches or merged them with another UK based operation.
As we have said for some years now, Brexit has brought about an acceleration of trends which were happening anyway, and precipitated some long overdue tidying up.
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*2020 defined as the year ending 2020, where most of the year was in 2019, ie April 2019 to March 2020 or January 2019 to December 2019.
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