A deal for future ceramics

Clay Technology magazine
18 Aug 2017

Ellis Davies reports on the  recent ceramics proposal  to government. 

On 11 July, representatives from the UK ceramic industry put forward a proposal to Government that they believe will unlock growth in the country. The deal focused on four main areas – people, innovation, trade and image and regulation (particularly energy-related matters). 

Laura Cohen, Chief Executive of the British Ceramic Confederation (BCC), told Clay Technology about the build-up to the deal. ‘We came together as a group of Ceramic Manufacturers and Staffordshire Stakeholders last autumn. This was because of discussions Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Secretary of State, Greg Clark, had with the Stoke and Staffordshire LEP Chairman, David Frost, for the LEP to work with the sector to make a proposal to government to help unlock growth in the UK ceramic sector, recognising that there should be a strong element of “place”, given the sector’s concentration in Staffordshire. If successful, after negotiation this could lead to a deal akin to the City Deals.’

The goal is to reassert the Staffordshire Potteries as a global centre for ceramics based on design-led production, digital manufacturing, materials and technological innovation for the UK. Cohen believes that the UK ceramics manufacturing sector must grow by 9% per annum to maintain its share of the global market over the next few years, and also mentioned ambitions to increase the UK’s share of the global ceramics market by securing 15% year-on-year growth – this would, by 2022, lift the sector to £4bln in sales and £1.5bln of gross value added (GVA) each year.

Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire are home to 8,700 employees of the ceramics industry, with a concentration of just over 22 times more than the national figure. The BCC has estimated that ceramics manufacturing in the area contributed £285 million of GVA to the local economy in 2014, and exports totalled £180 million worth of goods in 2016. 

The potential deal proposes an international centre for ceramics in the area, providing a physical hub to bring together the industry’s main assets to address its priorities. ‘We need to think in terms of a ceramic ecosystem that nurtures indigenous growth, attracts outside investments, promotes the area’s ceramics potential, co-ordinates support for the sector and provides intelligent leadership. We need a game changer to shift the sector and the area from its “business as usual path”. The International Institute for Ceramics would do just that,’ said Cohen. 

Employment avenues for younger people are mentioned in the proposal. The BCC highlights working with training providers to implement practical initiatives to address the technical skills challenge, as well as providing school age careers advice, sector-wide work placements and enterprise activities in the school curriculum. The BCC also states that ‘the sector is determined to invest in innovation to improve its know-how in the design, manufacture, performance, functionality and cost effectiveness of existing and new products/processes’.

Regarding trade and image, the deal aims to work with Government to secure genuine free trade and promote exporting for ceramics manufactures. This will also focus on promotion and investment in securing higher-tech ceramic jobs in the Ceramic Valley Enterprise Zone sites in Stoke-on-Trent. The ceramic sector will also attempt to to reach a deal that will ensure ‘a more level playing field with international rivals, particularly on energy-related matters’.

Moving forward, representatives will receive formal feedback shortly and hope to enter formal negotiations with Government over a period of one-to-two years, during which time modifications can be made. ‘It is really important to the board at the BCC that the deal benefits the industry nationally. We have a really strong UK supply chain and we supply a wide set of end markets, giving us a much broader benefit in the UK and global economies,’ said Cohen.