It is a pleasure to serve under your Chairmanship, Sir Alan. I am pleased to see the Minister and so many other hon. Members in the Chamber.
I want to consider the difficulties faced by an important industry in the UK: producers and distributors of packaging products. The matters I want to raise fall broadly into three categories: issues affecting industry generally; the cost inputs by which the packaging industry is affected, particularly energy and international competition; and the impact of packaging on the environment. I realise that of those three items only the first is specifically the responsibility of the Minister and his Department, whereas the second is broadly that of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and the third of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; but I am pleased that the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Mr Prisk, is to answer, because I want to dwell on the broader issues affecting an important business sector.
We all recognise packaging when we see it. It performs an important role in our lives. The container that food is sold in protects the product and reduces spoilage, keeping it fresher for longer. Packaging exists only because other products exist. First and foremost it is a delivery system for other products. As to its impact on the economy, the UK packaging manufacturing industry has a turnover exceeding £11 billion, with 85,000 employees, representing approximately 3% of all UK manufacturing output. It is recognised by the Minister’s Department as an important part of the green economy; it has a role as a major recycler and as a reuser of recycled material. The sector has contributed to raising the UK’s packaging waste recycling record over 10 years from just 28% in 1998 to 65% in 2008.
I believe that I have some authority to speak on packaging because of my career background before entering Parliament. In 1979, as a 22-year-old fresh from university, I joined a company called Autobar Vending Supplies as a graduate trainee. The business’s product range originally consisted of beverages for the drink vending sector, but also, importantly, included disposable plastic cups. The range of cups led the business into supplying a broader range of catering, disposable and food packaging items. As an aside, I draw attention to the fact that the model of that business is, regrettably, seen less frequently today; it was owned by an entrepreneur, who had a strategy of building up sales of a range of products to a level where it made sense to acquire a manufacturer or to start up manufacturing from scratch, so as to control quality and delivery, and retain the manufacturing profit. It is a shame that today the perceived complexities of running and managing manufacturing businesses mean that the strategy would probably involve sourcing the products in volume from an overseas manufacturer.
In my early years with the business I was involved in sales of goods manufactured in the UK by businesses such as Mono Containers, Autobar Vendabeka and Fibracan. At that time, in 1979, the catering disposable sector was growing fast. In 1974 McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in the UK, in Woolwich, serving in-store customers and those who wanted takeaways with products in the same disposable type of packaging. That started to change people’s attitudes towards the use of packaging more broadly.