Cristal clear messages for a visiting minister

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 21 Aug 2017

STALLINGBOROUGH titanium dioxide producer Cristal hosted a visit from a British Government Minister Therésè Coffey as she toured Yorkshire and the Humber. 

The Minister for the Environment and Rural Life Opportunities was on a fact-finding mission during the summer recess, and the South Bank plant was selected to represent the chemical industry.

Working with the Chemical Industries Association (CIA), a roundtable discussion was held, with a number of key stakeholders and suppliers joining in.    

The gathering included Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency who was also keen to hear from business.

The aim was to enable the minister to listen to the true voice of the industry, gauge the mood of business, gain a better understanding of the key challenges that companies like Cristal are facing, and listen to their views and concerns about Brexit and the potential impact of a “bad deal”. 

As part of her role, the minister has a specific responsibility for chemicals, and having a PhD in Chemistry, she is well placed for this. 

A Cristal spokesperson said: “It was important for her to understand that the biggest customer for the chemical industry is the chemical industry itself.  

“Cristal relies on others in the chemical industry to supply them with raw materials, and Cristal then sells its product onto other companies within the industry who go on to make products like paints and coatings, for example.”

The roundtable discussion begins

Richard Stansfield, managing director of Singleton Birch, Russel Argo, president of Brenntag UK & Ireland and David Talbot, chief executive of Catch, participated. “Having a mix of companies around the table who are all interlinked with Cristal really helped her to see the way the industry is interlinked, first hand,” the spokesperson said.

Also at the meeting was Simon Marsh, employment and communications director, and Pete Walters – environment and sustainability director, both of the CIA. 

Brexit was a matter that came up in the discussions on a number of occasions, and was an issue that all the companies round the table had specific concerns about. 

“The chemical industry is one of the UK’s largest exporters, exceeding all other industrial sectors in the UK so the theme was very much around the importance of achieving an outcome where there is frictionless, tariff-free trade with the EU,” the spokesperson said. “In addition, avoiding border controls for the movement of products is vitally important as these will cause additional delays, wastage and cost for businesses, governments and consumers.”

The chemical industry is a vital part of the British economy.  It Contributes £60 million a day to the UK economy, £15 billion annually. It also spends £4.4 billion each year on investment in buildings, vehicles and machinery and almost £5 billion each year on research and development.

“The industry manufactures products and technologies that are delivering a green economy, including delivering twice the carbon saving for society compared to what we use,” the spokesperson said.

“From a workforce perspective, the industry employs about 500,000 people – directly and indirectly – with pay around 30 per cent higher than manufacturing generally.” 

As part of her visit, the Minister had the opportunity to meet a group of Cristal apprentices who have just completed their training and have been offered permanent roles.

This was one subject matter that was discussed at the roundtable. David Talbot explained to the Minister that there has been a significant drop in the number of apprentices offered by businesses in recent times, and the minister was able to respond by saying that the Government intends to amend the apprenticeship levy to make it more affordable for companies to offer more apprenticeships again.

The minister concluded her visit by saying that she really valued the discussion time and the openness of all the business leaders, and she has a number of key points to take back to Government on the group’s behalf.  She also committed that the Government “will do everything in its power to execute a smooth and frictionless transition through Brexit.”

EU economy joy is toasted​

CHEMICAL businesses across the UK have stressed the importance of an improving European Union economy to their manufacturing operations. 

In the latest Chemical Industries Association survey of member companies, total sales volumes and export volumes continue to gain. 

Looking ahead, expectations for export growth remain high. 50 per cent of companies expect exports to increase over the next 12 months with only 6 per cent expecting a decrease. A third of companies saw the expanding European economy as an opportunity over the next year. The EU is the sector’s biggest export market with 60 per cent of trade headign there. 

Further increases in both capital expenditure and R&D spending with employee numbers expected to rise at the fastest rate since early 2015. 41% of companies expect to increase capital expenditure over the next twelve months with only 9% expecting to lower spending. In addition, no company expects to reduce R&D spending in the next twelve months while 21% will increase R&D spending. Both are very good news for an investment- and innovation-intensive sector. New jobs in the chemical sector mean more well-paid jobs often in regions of the UK where employment is most needed. 
Chief Executive of the Association Steve Elliott said “In spite of the positive results, the survey also showed that trading uncertainty was already weighing down exports and potential increases in regulatory costs was a big concern for chemical businesses.  We therefore continue to urge the government to provide clarity over the future trading and regulatory relationship with the European Union to ensure frictionless tariff free trade, regulatory consistency and access to skilled people are essential to maintaining the growth of the chemical sector across the UK. A strong EU economic performance benefits the UK if we can get the relationship right after we leave.”

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