Outgoing ceramics chef calls on government to help save Stoke-on-Trent jobs

The government must do more to stop Stoke-on-Trent ceramics jobs being exported overseas, a departing industry chief has warned. Laura Cohen, who ended her 13 years as head of the British Ceramic Confederation, said the UK was at risk of ‘decarbonizing by deindustrialising’ as manufacturers did not receive enough help to transition to a low carbon technology.

During her tenure as CEO of BCC, Dr Cohen had to deal with a major recession, Brexit uncertainties and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. As he leaves, the UK ceramics industry faces the urgent issue of soaring energy prices, as well as the long-term challenge of decarbonisation.

Dr Cohen says the ceramics sector has the potential to become a “world leader” in green technology, but only with enough government support. And time is running out – Dr Cohen warns that policies need to be in place within three years, if energy-intensive industry is to successfully decarbonise by 2050.

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She said: “In the short term, electricity prices in the UK are higher than in most of our European peer economies, and these high costs are undermining our international competitiveness. We need the government to take action urgent and ensures that there are investments in both the short term and the long term.

“However, in the long term, it is the push to net zero that will be the real challenge, and one that we cannot tackle alone. The government must work with us in partnership to replace gas with hydrogen, bioenergy or electricity and also to ensure that UK ceramics manufacturing remains internationally competitive.

Dr Laura Cohen

“With the right support, the UK ceramics sector and its supply chain has the potential to become a global leader in sustainable low-carbon manufacturing technologies. The government must act to address our concerns about the non- the UK’s growing competitiveness in gas, electricity, and carbon prices internationally.

“To be in a position to decarbonise by 2050, and with typical furnace lifetimes of 25-40 years, companies must have access to compatible low-carbon infrastructure and equipment. Supporting policy frameworks must be in place by 2025 at the latest and implementation must begin in But the technologies we need to deploy are not yet developed.

“We need the government to engage and support our sector now, otherwise the UK risks decarbonising by deindustrialising. Exporting jobs and importing carbon will not save the planet.”

Dr Cohen had always planned to step down as chief executive of BCC after her husband’s retirement four years ago, but decided to extend her stay to help businesses through the pandemic. She will continue her role as visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Engineering at the University of Manchester and the Henry Royce Institute.

The ceramics industry has faced many challenges during her time at BCC, but Dr. Cohen believes it has demonstrated its resilience.

She said: When I started we were just entering what was the biggest recession for many decades, with a number of businesses going bankrupt. However, ceramics is a resilient and forward-looking industry that touches every aspect of modern life – from bricks and tableware to aerospace, medical and automotive components. The sector has always been innovative and now wants to play its part in reducing carbon emissions and achieving the government’s goal of being net zero by 2050.”

Former Stoke-on-Trent South MP Rob Flello has succeeded Dr Cohen as chief executive of the BCC.

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