The chemical industry is vital to the UK. It is already the biggest export business in the UK at £43 bn. However imports have risen after various shut downs, and the amount we are importing is, in my view, unnecessarily high. There are major opportunities for new investment to bring production of key materials back into the UK and bring jobs, growth and expertise with it.
My constituency of Redcar is part of an area which has traditionally been a hub of the UK chemical industry. Chemicals are key ingredients in almost everything we buy. Whether it is through plastics, resins, coatings, lubricants or fuel additives, chemicals play a vital role in any number of industries. The Government has a strategy to bring supply chains into the UK as much as possible in order to maximise the efficiency, growth potential and economic impact of each industry. For example there is a company in Stockton now making many of the plastic parts for cars yet they have to buy all the plastics from abroad. As Chair of the Chemical Industry All Party Group, I thoroughly welcome the Government’s supply chain strategy which will help chemicals industry grow and underpin strong economic recovery.
A healthy innovative chemical industry can strengthen a strong manufacturing sector. The Teesside chemical industry has reduced in scale but is still a vital part of the national economy. At one time it looked as though it was in terminal decline however with the building up a of centre for research excellence and joining the industry together as a process industry ‘cluster’ the rot has now stopped and new investment is pouring in. Further opportunities are occurring in green technology through biological routes to production and recycling chemicals from waste. There are now over 50 companies in the Teesside chemical industry cluster all bringing jobs and growth to the local and national economy.
Chemicals and pharmaceuticals remain industries in which the UK excels. It is very frustrating to hear employers say they can’t find local employees with the skills they need. Science education has been downgraded in schools and the UK just hasn’t been producing the scientists and engineers the country needs. It is one thing bringing the jobs to the UK, but if we also need to bring the workers then that makes no difference to our pool of unemployed people. There has been an encouraging upturn and emphasis on maths and science education but a lot more needs to be done.
I am pleased to see the Government investing more in science and setting up Technology Innovation Centres. With the right support the chemical industry can remain a powerful engine of wealth creation for the UK.