What a Difference a Year (Hopefully) Makes

Most people on the planet were glad to see the back of 2020. The authors of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle might have glossed over the sheer awfulness with something like ‘2020 was a terrible year,’ and left it at that. Tempted as I might be to do the same, it is worth noting again just how resilient BCF members have been over the past twelve months.

Resilience firstly in reacting to Covid: keeping production going; keeping staff employed and adapting work practices to keep them safe; and playing their part in helping make products used in the response to the virus and by taking a lead in their communities. However, while the overall picture was not as bad as for other industries, we know some members were hit harder than others – decorative paint sales continue to soar as lockdown Britain’s enforced love affair with DIY carries on into the third, and hopefully last ever national lockdown, whilst industrial paints and printing inks suffer as other industries reeled under the economic contraction, not least aerospace and automotive.

But also, secondly, resilience in preparing for the UK’s new trading relationship with the EU, against a backdrop of delay to decisions and uncertainty of outcome. We know from participation in our various Brexit webinars, in our committee meetings, and from regular communications with members just how much time and resource has been put into making sure the coatings industry is ready to deal with all the new rules and regulations.

Both of those issues – Covid and Brexit – will continue to hamper business well into 2021. Despite the rolling out of vaccines across the country, it seems likely we will be in some form of lockdown until Easter, and maybe continue to have restrictions in place for even longer. Bailouts from government will help mitigate the worst effects to the economy but members operating in the industrial and printing ink sectors will be likely still feeling negative effects for some time.

Likewise, although the UK has left the EU and the transition period has ended, Brexit will still be a 2021 issue. There will no doubt be a period of teething problems to overcome as industry adapts to the new rules and regulations, not least at the ports and in dealing with customs in the short-term, and in the medium term through dealing with chemicals regulations both in the UK and as a ‘third country’ exporting to the EU. Once things settle down, and we can plan ahead with a little more certainty, companies will have to evaluate the impact of those rules on their business. At the same time, there will be continued FTA negotiations with the USA, Australia and New Zealand, as well as other countries we have recently signed continuity agreements with.  We have to look for and benefit from trading and regulatory opportunities from leaving the EU, otherwise it will only have been a damage limitation exercise.

2021 is likely to also be a year focused heavily on the environment. The UK presidency of the UN Climate Change Conference – COP26 – delayed from last year, will take place in Glasgow in November. The Government will want to place itself as a world-leader in all things green ahead of that and we can expect a raft of announcements and legislation on environmental policies. The introduction of a carbon tax of some kind is almost a certainty and this is something we at BCF will keep a close eye on – along with other business organisations. We all want to play our part in improving the environment, and a key area where BCF hopes it can add value is helping to solve the challenge of how to improve the environmental impact on leftover decorative paint, 98% of which is landfilled or incinerated. We have a vision to radically improve this, through our voluntary PaintCare initiative.  However, with business hurting from Covid and Brexit, and already having to cope with new green taxes like that on plastic packaging, we need to make sure solutions are proportionate for the times.

Here at BCF we will continue to provide many events and resources online although we hope – as I am sure everyone else does – that we might be able to see each other in person again, at least in the Autumn. Our lobbying efforts will be heavily focused on the UK’s transition from the EU, not least around seeking amendments to UK REACH to reduce the anticipated costs to business of the new scheme. As always, we are here to provide regulatory support to BCF members, and to generally promote the industry within Government, Parliament and the wider public.