We are living in changing times. When the country voted to leave the European Union, as a nation and an industry we entered into a period of uncertainty, both in terms of our economy and where the UK sits in the broader European landscape.Economically, it is obvious that we need Government to build confidence in the short and long term to support the positive performance of the UK economy. We need sustained private and public investment to drive forward our sector, which only comes from clarity and confidence.
News that construction market demand for mineral products slowed in the second quarter of 2017 provides evidence of a more general slowdown in construction activity in recent months. But hand in hand with building confidence and boosting growth goes clarity on legislation and regulation.
The Mineral Products Association’s report ‘Brexit priorities for the Mineral Products industry’, published in February, highlights key considerations for our sector. It highlights the need to sustain international trade by maintaining ‘fullest access to European and non-European markets using appropriate, effective and comprehensive free trade agreements in preference to trading under WTO rules, recognizing the need to balance security of supply with competitiveness’.
The report also identifies that, as an industry, we employ significant numbers of EU citizens: ‘on average, 3% of the industry’s workforce come from the EU, increasing to 9% for activities directly related to freight transport by road. Our main customer industries, notably in construction, are also heavily reliant on EU citizens to deliver existing levels of industry workloads’.
What will happen to wider legislation? European Directives are part and parcel of UK law and underpin much regulation that impacts the way we work. Clearly, there will be opportunities to improve the implementation of regulation to suit UK circumstances post Brexit, but not at the cost of the advances we have made in terms of safety, sustainability and management of the environment.
We are heading into the unknown. Let’s trust that our voice will be heard by pulling together as an industry. We need to ensure that the advances we have seen in regulation and legislation continue to position the UK quarrying and mineral extractives sector as the lead example of how to operate effectively, efficiently, safely, considerately and, not forgetting, competitively.