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Brexit dominates MPA’s annual conference

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World Cement,

Minerals Products 2017, the UK Minerals Products Association (MPA) annual conference, focused on the need for industry to the many changes currently facing the UK and its place in the wider international community, primarily the result of Brexit.

“Our industry continues to be ready to support the government’s agenda for developing and improving the built environment in post-Brexit Britain,” said MPA Chairman, Simon Vivian, in his opening address to the conference.

Maintaining the UK building material industry’s competitiveness was a key theme of the conference. A number of presenters highlighted access to skills and labour in a post-Brexit as a crucial aspect to this, given the UK government’s stated intent to end freedom of movement between the UK and the EU in a bid to reduce immigration.

“The ultimate shape of the deal with the EU matters,” said Vivian. “This will define access, not only to important European markets, but more significantly to both skilled and ‘less skilled’ labour.”

According to the MPA’s position paper on Brexit, the minerals products industry employs “significant number of EU citizens”, while the construction industry is “heavily reliant on EU citizens to deliver existing levels of industry workload.” The UK government has so far refused to guarantee EU citizens currently living the UK will be allowed to stay post-Brexit.

Other speakers noted that curbing immigrated had been a key motivating factor behind Brexit and that planning for an economy with significantly reduced access to immigrant skills should be a key task for industry.

In addition to skills and immigration, speakers also highlighted the areas in which the UK government could support industry competitiveness, including around energy costs. UK energy costs are currently inflated by the unilateral carbon price floor, which add an additional levy to carbon above that of the European Trading Scheme.

Daniel Mahoney of the Centre for Policy Studies, a think tank, called for the abolition of the carbon price floor – while acknowledging that the government may not be so keen to lose revenue it currently generates. Mahoney also highlighted the development of the UK’s shale gas sector as a way of stabilising energy prices, as well as developing the economy of the north of England, where most shale gas resources are located.

Throughout the conference, speakers stressed the challenge that Brexit negotiations would be for the UK – and the suspicion that the UK government may not be fully prepared.

“It is clear that government should be listening more to experts, who really understand the ‘nitty gritty’ issues relating to international trade and business and industry,” said Nigel Jackson, CEO of the MPA, in his summary of the conference. “It is in everyone’s interests to secure a successful Brexit. We need a lot less political dogma and lot more pragmatism and collaborative working as we leave the EU.”

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