I firmly believe that we can always learn and improve what we do – whatever walk of life in which we happen to be – by observing others, and seeing how other people do things. In this spirit, I had the privilege recently of travelling to the United States, to meet with Members of Congress to discuss how politicians in the USA represent the views of the people who elect them, and yes before anybody comments this was at no expense to the UK tax payer. I am sure everyone can guess some of the key topics that were of interest, including delivering Brexit, strengthening future UK/US trade and building on the strong relationship between our countries.
Of course, the historic ties between Britain and the United States are deep and strong. Our culture shares many similarities and we work closer with the US that with any other single nation on matters from our international security to our economic prosperity. The Faneuil Hall in Boston is a fascinating building, one of the original meeting places for those who objected to British rule in the mid-18th century that led to US independence. I was pleased to hear many people in the US agree about the importance for us in the UK of regaining our independence with Brexit.
What I was not expecting, while taking in the fascinating history of this incredible place, was to turn over a plate and see the word “Steelite” stamped on the back. Really, I should not have been surprised. People in the United States, as well as those across the Middle East and as far away as South Korea, appreciate fully the quality of products manufactured here in Stoke-on-Trent. I was even more surprised and proud to see Minton tiles from Stoke-on-Trent adorning the floors throughout the United State Capitol Building in Washington DC. We have been exporting our wares from Stoke-on-Trent right around the world for generations.
But, I’m afraid to say not enough of the places I visited were using British ceramics, far too much was from China or as part of the throwaway culture were not ever ceramics at all. We need to change this and redouble our efforts to sell more of our fantastic products to the US market. People in the US still know the high level of quality that is guaranteed by what we produce and British ceramics continue to be very popular. I asked many people I met in the USA what state their ceramics industry was based, nobody could say. This is probably because they don’t really have anywhere like Stoke-on-Trent in the US and certainly none of the few individual producers that do exist are capable of the high quality we can achieve.
Here in Stoke-on-Trent we must seize upon this and take full advantage of their lack of capabilities and meet the demand for the high-quality products we produce. I have written about this before, but it is worth highlighting just how many opportunities there are around the world for businesses in Stoke-on-Trent and not just in ceramics. Many of our industries already have a foothold in many of these places, and now I want to see us do much more. A trade agreement between the UK and the US would be a critical part of significantly expanding these opportunities.
We need the ambition to be confident in our area, our people, and in the incredible products we are capable of producing. I was told at a visit to a logistics headquarters in Stoke-on-Trent South recently that the workforce locally around here is the best with which the manager has ever worked, and that this was a key factor in ensuring the highest levels of customer service. Elsewhere, at a factory locally I was recently shown the precision and artistic skills of people working in decorating our pottery products; so much so that their orders range from tableware designed in Stoke-on-Trent, to orders for the restoration of building tiles thousands of miles away.
Wherever I visit, I always encourage our local businesses to look abroad, to look at the options and the opportunities there are overseas for selling our products. This message is getting a little worn, but Brexit is about developing our links with more of the world, not retreating from it, regaining our independence to become a strong global trading nation. Whilst achieving a trade agreement with the United States won’t be straight forward – in making it a success we must focus on the opportunities this will give businesses in Stoke-on-Trent, and the improvements it can bring to our area.