Philip Law shares his opinions on the Thatcher legacy, the importance of inward investment and and telling the Government ‘what’s what’.
If there is one lesson we should learn from the Thatcher legacy it is the importance of inward investment. Her initial sojourn in the research department of BX Plastics, Manningtree, aside, it was her re-shaping of the UK's industrial landscape where she had her true impact on the plastics industry.
The demise of the smoke-stack industries - iron and steel, ship building, coal mining - accelerated by her policies - lead to the creation of enterprise zones which offered extremely attractive grants to companies re-locating to them.
This resulted, in the late 80's and early 90's, in a wave of Japanese and American investment into South Wales, the North-East and 'Silicon Glen' in Scotland. This had a huge impact on the plastics industry as it coincided with the micro-chip revolution and the introduction of new applications for plastics in business equipment and telecommunications devices produced by the inward investors.
Plastics moulding companies pounced on this opportunity and followed the migration to the old coal fields. Even London-based firms moved to Scotland. Some plastics industry CEOs boasted of their prowess in the basics of Japanese and their ability to match Japanese hosts, toast for toast, in the drinking parlours of Osaka. Wondrous it was to be alive in our plastics industry at that time! A truly golden age. And all based on inward investment. Forget ye not, Vince!
This is a theme well developed in the BPF's Strategic Discussion Document and one we pressed in a very positive meeting we held with Labour Shadow Minister for Competitiveness and Enterprise, Iain Wright (yes, we do have to hedge our bets!), who came to the BPF offices on March 18th 2013 for a one-hour briefing on the plastics industry. We can only take it at face value when this MP for Hartlepool told us that he saw the plastics industry as a strategic heartland of the UK economy. He wants us to inform the evolution of the coverage of manufacturing in Labour's manifesto.
One of the lesser-known ways in which the BPF helps the industry is in the preparation of detailed responses to Government consultations either on proposed legislation or policy. These can cover anything from industrial competitiveness to waste management. We complete about 50 of these a year and it's one of the major ways we tell government 'what's what'. The most far reaching we have on the table at the moment is the European Commission's Green Paper on Plastics Waste. We don't like the way this is written and the assumptions behind it are highly questionable. It could spell more or different legislation even by product and/or specific materials.
This week we sent in our comments on the Government's consultation on a proposed Waste Prevention Programme. It was a great opportunity to brief the civil servants on the resource efficiency story for plastics and how we've never really needed legislation to minimise the use of material in products. Commercial imperatives were producing such results before 'sustainability' was christened as such. It's previous name in that unreformed era was that now unfashionable yet much more precise and evocative term 'profitability'.