ISSUE 05 | OPINION

Protecting the Potteries

The Potteries’ MP Ruth Smeeth is out to protect British-made ceramics from ‘bogus backstamping’.

Ruth Smeeth

No discussion of Britain’s ceramics industry is complete without mentioning my great city of Stoke-on- Trent. After all, the clue is in our colloquial name: the Potteries. 

It was the birthplace of the modern ceramics industry and remains a by-word for quality in the field. The Potteries continue to be home to a thriving ceramics sector, directly employing nearly 10,000 people across North Staffordshire, and featuring the leading tableware, tile and brick brands in the country, from Steelite and Churchill’s, to Johnson Tiles and Ibstock. 

This industry shaped our community, underscores our culture and continues to play a big role in our local economy. That’s why it’s so important that the sector has the support it needs to thrive in the years and decades ahead. 

As chair of the All-Party Group for Ceramics in Parliament, one of my priorities has been to speak up for our local industry and the sector more widely, to highlight and tackle the challenges it faces. 

One of these challenges, which will impact on all British manufacturing, is, of course, the B word. For an industry like ceramics – where 50% of exports are sold via EU-negotiated trade deals – Brexit, and the uncertainty that surrounds it, is a pressing concern on issues as varied as carbon emissions to product dumping. These concerns are in addition to any concerns associated with a ‘No-Deal’ subsequent adoption of WTO terms. Under WTO rules, British exports would be subject to tariffs until a trade agreement was negotiated, which would mean a 12% tariff on tableware alone, which is a huge part of North Staffordshire’s ceramic industry. 

So securing a Brexit deal which avoids the imposition of heavy tariffs and avoids unnecessary regulatory divergence is crucial to the sector. As a representative of one of the strongest ‘leave’ seats in the country, I’m acutely aware of the importance of a good deal. 

My biggest challenge at the moment is ensuring I speak up for the industry and try to make sure its needs are taken into account in this process. 

Another challenge is the need to protect the industry’s well-deserved reputation for quality. It is no exaggeration to say that the ceramics produced here in the UK are the best in the world. Wherever you go, the ‘Made in England’ backstamp is the guarantor of great quality. 

That is precisely why our companies have managed to remain not just competitive but world-leading, in a sector where cheap, mass-produced goods from overseas are rife. 

But that reputation is put at risk by ‘bogus backstamping’, when inferior, foreign-made tableware is passed off as being made in the UK through the use of disingenuous country of origin marking. 

That’s why I am steering a Bill through Parliament to ensure that products sold here in the UK will need to have an authentic country of origin backstamp, so that customers know exactly what they’re getting. It will also lay out clear guidelines for what constitutes a truly ‘British- made’ tableware product, to defend our industry’s vital and well-earned reputation. 

Our ceramics industry has a bright future, but it is important that we continue to push for the policies, investment and trade environment that it needs to thrive.”

Ruth Smeeth is the MP for Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove.

MP Ruth Smeeth:

"Our ceramics industry has a bright future, but it is important that we continue to push for the policies, investment and trade environment that it needs to thrive.”

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