'De-risking the next 3 years': improving productivity in the mineral products industry

Posted On: 
8th June 2018

The mineral products industry gives people globally “the basics to live confident and secure lives in the future”. They must work with politicians to solve global crises, says the former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.

The mineral products industry is a strategic industry both for this country and indeed for the wider world, said Sir Stephen O'Brien, KBE.

Opening the Mineral Product Association’s National Conference earlier this week titled ‘'De-risking the Next 3 Years', Improving Productivity… Embracing New Technologies’, Sir Stephen O'Brien KBE, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator stressed that the mineral products industry was “a strategic industry both for this country and indeed for the wider world.”

Drawing on his experiences working in both the mineral products industry and international development, the former MP for Eddisbury said that the industry is “satisfying the needs and wants of people” and “underpins the definition of having growth in the economy.”

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He celebrated the essential role the industry plays in ensuring people have “the basics to live confident and secure lives in the future”, encouraging the industry to continue to put people at the heart of what it does.

In addressing the theme of the conference, Sir Stephen O’Brien called on the mineral products industry to play an active role in politics, to make sure that the industry is well served in the face of contemporary risks both domestically and internationally.

Sir Stephen said that following Brexit, good evidence and data is needed to identify markets and opportunities around the world that are “desperate to have” the “fantastic skills, experience and technology” of the mineral products industry.

There will be risks associated with new markets, from the political to climate change, but he underscored the fact that accessing new markets is going to be “increasingly frustrated by conflicts arising.”

Alongside the geographic constraints by man-made conflicts on the success of the industry, Sir Stephen stated that “there is a cyber war taking place, which is not just to do with security but to do with commercial competitiveness and the occupation of markets”.

The former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs called on the industry to engage with politicians on the causes and use of conflict and to reward certain countries by giving them investment.

Where climate change was concerned, he stated that the mineral products industry needs to be ahead of curve, so that they can put the infrastructure in place so that communities can deal with climate change effectively when disaster strikes.

He called on the industry to invest locally in people, saying that “you are the ones who drive growth, who ultimately drive hope.”

Politics and Economics Outlook

Later, in a lively panel debate titled Politics and Economics Outlook chaired by BBC journalist Justin Webb, Sir Stephen O'Brien was joined by Professor Vernon Bogdanor, Research Professor at the Centre for British Politics and Government at Kings College London and Anna Leach, Head of Economic Intelligence, CBI.

In discussing the current domestic political uncertainty, Webb asked whether Theresa May would make it as Prime Minister to 2022. Sir Stephen O’Brien said there had been a “genuine generational shift” because of the 2015 and 2017 intake of Conservative MPs and that the interest of this intake in her leadership will be the test.

Webb questioned Sir Stephen on the potential leadership option of Michael Gove and Ruth Davidson. He replied, “every time someone comes up with something like that, it is the absolute guarantee it will never happen.”

Professor Bogdanor said that he believed Theresa May could only be replaced by a Brexiteer, but a Brexiteer that could hold together the Remainer element of the Conservative party, which posed a ‘fundamental problem’.

A second referendum

Bodganor said that the crunch point in the Brexit discussions will come in October and November this year when he felt the dilemma around free movement and trade with the EU will be resolved. He stated that as this time he suspects “there will be pressure for a referendum on the EU.”

With reference to the current political and economic climate, Webb asked the panel whether supporters of liberal democracy and post-1945 geopolitical settlement “has had it”.

Sir Stephen responded, by saying “there is going to a be struggle”, and that questions are being asked around the world as to whether the post 1945 geopolitical settlement is sustainable.

Bogdanor advised that the EU needs to ask itself the question whether the worries in Britain are confined to Britain and “what could we do to make the EU the sort of organisation Britain would wish to remain in?”

Sir Stephen said that Brexit caused him a lot of “concern and bafflement” as he has returned to his former constituency from the United Nations in New York and has heard statements like “we are happy to be poorer to keep people out, and that’s why we voted Brexit.”

From the uncertainties of Brexit and the geopolitical order, the panel moved on to discuss the economic outlook, which seemed somewhat more certain. Anna Leach, Head of Economic Intelligence at the CBI said that unusually for forecasts, they had not changed much over the last year.

She saw growth rates of 1.5% mark, citing sterling’s decline because of Brexit. She said this had benefitted export manufacturers but has left a significant legacy for consumers as real incomes have been eroded by inflation and weak earnings growth.

The Conference also examined the productivity gap and the role of automation and artificial intelligence can play in the industry, particularly for transport. The role offsite construction could play in meeting housing and other needs was also examined.