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So I’ve been back in the UK metal packaging business for six months after a seven years running a global steel operation in the US: all change or all the same?

Well I discovered pretty quickly that being a trade association director is somewhat different to being a senior manager in a directly commercial operation, but there are some similarities: you have members (customers) who look to you to help protect their interests and, of course, you need to demonstrate and provide value for money. Plus, you have a Council, effectively a board of directors, who meet to agree budgets and strategic direction.

I think that perhaps the most significant difference is the extent of direct involvement with regulation development and working with governmental bodies, not least on major issues such as the circular economy, resource management, recycling rates and climate change to name but a few.

The E.U. Commission /Council and Parliament are large, complex operations and managing relationships within them alongside other UK agencies and our E.U. counterparts has been, and remains, crucial to our success. But, as in business, just when things seem to be going well, there’s always a curveball waiting.  In this case, Brexit. Well as our new prime minister has said: ’Brexit means Brexit’ and MPMA’s task is to face this latest challenge head on and be sure of the best possible outcomes for our industry!

In reality I suspect that some things may not be so very different. Take one issue that is currently the subject of a major E.U. Directive: the Circular Economy Package. This Directive is all about conserving resources (raw materials, energy, water, food etc.) by reusing products and recycling waste to make Europe less dependent upon imported goods and to minimise our impact on our environment.

Reducing the amount of material we send to landfill remains very much in our national interests (after all, we’re a small, crowded island) and, because of the high level of landfill taxes, recycling ‘waste’ makes economic as well as environmental sense. In Britain we have a well-developed and low cost, market- based system for collecting and recycling kerbside waste. The UK Government (without, incidentally, any nudging from Brussels) has already set ambitious targets for the amount of energy we generate from renewable sources. The Climate Change Levy and the associated rebate for energy reduction achievement is an entirely British initiative.

So I think that when it comes to environmental regulation at least, the UK is best-placed to conform to European Directives either voluntarily or as part of a negotiated settlement.  And even if the UK Government elects not to conform entirely, I still think it unlikely that there would be any significant changes in regard to recycling targets/ waste framework, energy strategy etc. And this hold trues in many other areas too.

We don’t know yet what kind of deal the UK will eventually strike with the rest of the E.U, but for the next two years at least, it seems we will be subject to existing and future directives/legislation. But whichever direction the UK does take, the relationship between the trade association and UK regulators will be as, if not more, vital than ever.  Our task now is to to ensure that any proposed changes emanating from the Brexit decision are made in the best interests of our member companies. So then, business as usual!

 William Boyd
Director & Chief Executive


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