Cristal, the titanium dioxide producer based in Stallingborough, this week hosted a visit from a British Government Minister. Therésè Coffey MP is the Minister for the Environment and Rural Life Opportunities and her visit was part of a tour she was taking of the Humber region. Cristal was selected to represent the Chemical industry and used the opportunity to work together with the CIA (Chemical Industries Association) to host a roundtable discussion to which they invited a number of other key suppliers to join the discussion with the minister.
The aim of the roundtable was to bring together a small select group of valued key chemical industry stakeholders, with links to Cristal, to enable the minister to listen to the true voice of the industry, get a gage of 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. 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.
Cristal was joined by Richard Stansfield, Managing Director of Singleton Birch, Russel Argo, President of Brenntag UK & Ireland and David Talbot, CEO of HCF CATCH. 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.
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. 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, equivalent to £15 billion per year. It 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.
From a workforce perspective, the industry employs about 500,000 people – directly and indirectly – with pay around 30% 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 at Cristal and have all now been offered permanent roles at the TiO2
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 minster 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.
Next time she hopes to have more time at Cristal to be able to do a full plant tour to get a better understanding of what we do and get the chance to meet some more of our people.