The importance of Scotland’s print industry information has been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, as it has been a vital cog in the machinery employed to fight the virus.
The sector, which before the outbreak employed between 4,000 and 6,000 people, has been instrumental in creating literature, posters and stickers for the NHS and other public sector organisations, as well as helping supply vital PPE equipment.
The industry has also proved invaluable to other enterprises as they struggle to come to terms with new realities, for instance the food and drink sector which suddenly needed to promote new online or home delivery services.
But key figures within the sector feel that the printing industry has been significantly underappreciated since the lockdown began, and that it is deserving of greater recognition as an essential service.
Garry Richmond, Director of Print Scotland said: “Not enough credit has been given to printers over the course of this outbreak, because the stark fact is that nothing would be functioning without print.
“There would have been no food in the shops because everything sold in the supermarkets needs packaging, branding and labelling provided by printers. The NHS has needed forms, documents and notices about safe working practices. The list could go on.
“Print helps companies promote their goods and services and keep their customers updated, especially in critical times like this when the importance of verified and trusted information is paramount.”
Mr Richmond stated that the sector had been operating at around 25% to 35% of capacity, with some firms shutting down completely in response to Government advice, others running on skeleton staffs and yet others implementing safe practices in order to carry out essential work. He said the figures were similar across Europe.
Some print companies have directed their efforts towards helping the NHS. Trade finisher Taskforce (Finishing & Handling) Ltd produced 2,500 face visors using plastic it had in stock then another 2500 using donated plastic. These have been deployed in care homes.
Alex Porteous, Managing Director of Edinburgh-based Taskforce, said: “We have been delighted by the letters of thanks we have received from nursing homes, care homes and hospices.
“We are appealing now for more donations of plastic. We need sheets of 250-500 micron PVC and, with enough material, we could produce 10,000 visors a day.”
Digital Typeline Publications (DTP) Ltd, also of Edinburgh, has maintained a limited production schedule and has used its laser cutter to produce PPE face shields for the NHS, care homes and the police.
Alun Joseph, Managing Director of DTP, said: “As well as being able to help the essential services, we are also finding that customers are looking at new products or new ways of promoting their products. We are glad to have been able to support them.”
Mr Richmond said that although the print industry in Scotland had been badly affected over the outbreak, he was optimistic about its ability to bounce back.
He said: “It might take until the end of the year before we are back to running at a more normal 85% to 95% capacity but, as the easing progresses, more and more firms are readying themselves for a resumption of business.
“They are reconfiguring desk spaces, installing sanitiser stations, working on social distancing and introducing elements such as staggered breaks. There is also consideration of South Korean working models such as separate Monday-to-Wednesday and Thursday-to-Saturday teams, which would also ease the strain on public transport.
“It is probably inevitable that there will be some job losses, but the industry is determined to do everything possible to keep them to a minimum. There will have to be changes across the board to make it work.”