We’re better off in than out

The commercial director of Swift Electrical Wholesalers, Malcolm Scott, considers how the EU makes life easier for those who operate across Europe

As I wrote this, I was packing for my biennial trip to Milan, which seemed an appropriate time to ponder the big European question – are we better in or out?

On a personal level, we will all be affected, as will our children, but let us start by looking at our industry and the workplace and end the pondering with some personal thoughts.

On appliances, the big brands all have factories and warehouses throughout Europe and are very much integrated businesses. So, just how ‘European’ are the big three UK dominant kitchen studio appliance brands? BSH has 18 factories in Europe and 10 outside Europe, manufacturing in the USA, China, India, Russia and South America, where production from the factories is mainly used to supply the local market.

The vast majority of BSH products sold in the UK come from the 16 factories in the EU. Remarkably, only one of BSH’s European factories operates from a country outside the EU. Whirlpool Group has 10 of its factories in the Americas, plus three in India and one in China. But again, of the 12 factories in Europe, none are in ‘non-EU’ European countries.

Electrolux, the other continental giant, has factories in North and South America, Australia and China, but of the 22 factories located in Europe, only two are in countries outside the EU. So, on this very basic measure, the 13 countries on the European continent that are not in the EU do not seem to be very good at attracting European investment.

Our own home-grown Glen Dimplex Home Appliance Group, manufacturing appliances in Merseyside, has its own overseas commercial offices in eight countries, remarkably, all are in the EU, so 100% of GDHA directly-operated offices are in the EU. Crosslee, the maker of White Knight dryers, has a website in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian, and proudly boasts that West Yorkshire is the home of European tumble-dryer manufacturing. Its website talks of “phenomenal success in exporting to these European countries”, all of which are in the EU.

On sinks, the Carron factory in Falkirk, central Scotland, exports more than half of its production to EU countries. On taps, the splendid home-grown Perrin and Rowe taps manufactured in Essex are sold via distributors in Sweden, Holland, Belgium and Germany. More than half the international dealers listed on the British-made AGA Rangemaster website are based in EU countries, so half of the group’s overseas representatives are in EU Europe. Interestingly, there are only three Commonwealth countries listed.

So it is quite clear that some of the most successful UK manufacturing companies in our sector see the EU as their main market and that the big manufacturers of appliances see the EU as a favoured place to base their activity.

The EU makes life very simple if you want to ship goods across international borders within the zone. We at Swift recently sent a cooker to Italy and found that is was no more complicated than sending a cooker to Bristol – no big paper trail, just call the carrier and send the goods. Also, on a visit to Peterborough to see all the great new products from Whirlpool last week, the presentation was done by a very competent young Italian lady whom Whirlpool had drafted in from Italy.

On my last visit to the Italian Whirlpool oven factory, an Englishman who had been transferred from the UK office, dined with us. Working and moving staff within the EU is much more simple than any other part of the world, where permits and visas would be needed. On a family visit to Denmark last summer, I was amazed at how many British students were working in shops.

I think it is a really great thing that our children can work anywhere in Europe, and as a Scotsman who has lived most of his life in England, I am still just a bit ‘left-wing’ on social issues and firmly believe that the EU regulations on employment rights have greatly improved the position of the average working person over the past 20 years.

However, any talk of the EU taking sovereignty from our historic democracy is just plain nonsense. We can opt out of anything we choose, and we do often opt out. At the risk of upsetting my English friends as much as I upset my Scottish friends during the Scottish ‘in or out’ vote, I cannot see a single scrap of evidence anywhere to back up the emotional rhetoric about us Brits always being better off on our own.

Europe is a good club that is good for business and good for our own personal mobility and one which gives our children wider opportunity.

I think you’ve probably guessed which way I will be voting.

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