This month, Philip Law, Director-General of the British Plastics Federation (BPF), addresses Brexit from a glass half full approach, as well as spotlighting the recently published strategic document that will be crucial to the UK plastics industry going forward.
The past month has been preoccupied with Brexit. Was it good? Was it bad?
What is going to happen next? And – for us – what will be the impact on the plastics industry?
The fact is – it is too early to say. It is still not absolutely certain that there will be a Brexit – and if there is, what shape it will take.
Additionally, it is not clear if we leave, what shape the EU will be in at the point of our exit. As unclear, also, is the UK’s negotiating strength. I’m referring here to our need to acquire skilled trade negotiators and how well they are led. However, whatever happens, we must make the best of it and seize it as an opportunity. Now is not the time for a ‘glass half empty’ approach.
Clearly, there are widespread concerns about the effects a weaker pound may have on competitiveness. Imported raw materials are more expensive, as are imported machines. Naturally, our member firms are cautious, looking for stability and continuity. In the British Plastic Federation’s (BPF) Business Conditions Survey, polled in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, over 50 percent of respondents said they still expected sales turnover to increase over the next twelve months. Many are expecting to take advantage of the pound’s weakness through increased exports. And, while the emphasis of investment is expected to change from ‘major investment’ to ‘minor investment’, investment is still taking place. In addition, approximately a third of companies are planning to recruit new staff, and out of these, 75 percent will increase their staff by between 6-20 percent.
Coincidentally, the BPF also published its strategic vision for the industry at the same time. This had been in germination since early 2015 – some time before Brexit was even conceived as a reality. This will be an enormously important reference point for the industry in the coming years. Within it, the BPF has identified seven key areas that need to be addressed in order to put the UK in the lead as a national plastics manufacturing industry. The UK invented both the material and the industry – and now we intend to be at the forefront in helping to resolve the issues our success has created.
Firstly, we will be improving the reputation and image of the industry. There will be a continued focus on education and training, as companies continue to find it difficult to recruit skilled staff. Another key topic, in view of the extent of raw material imported, is the need for consistent and available supplies of feedstock. There will be a focus on innovation, in particular the search for energy saving products and the role of all the technological developments that make up the industry 4.0 concept, including 3D printing.
Plastics will be central to the ‘circular economy’ with their easy recyclability and reuse – and this too will be a focus. Overseas business development will be spotlighted, as will the re-shoring of projects. It is also important to remember that greater collaboration – both within the industry and along the supply chain – to effect much more cross fertilisation of experience and ideas will be an essential ingredient of success.
You can access the BPF’s strategic vision document at: