Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Pfizer closure initial thoughts.

I don’t suppose the closure of Pfizer came as much of a surprise to anyone, I think we all knew when production stopped at the plant in 2007, leaving only the research and development at the site, that there was a good chance that they would pull out altogether.

I suppose if the global economic crisis hadn’t happened then Pfizer may have stayed at Sandwich. Also because of the economic crisis the effects of the closure are likely to be worse.

In terms of Pfizer’s economic catchment area – where people who work there live, where the small firms reliant on this large company are located and where small businesses like my bookshop that has a proportion of customers whose income is derived directly of indirectly from Pfizers – then Thanet as the most deprived part opf this area will be hardest hit.

At the moment it seems pretty unlikely that there will be one large company either able or ready to take over the whole site and use it for something similar to what Pfizer’s were doing.

It also doesn’t look like the site lends itself to being the home for a lot of small companies, in fact those sites in the area that do, i.e. have separate industrial units of various sizes, have plenty of vacant units.

I wouldn’t have thought a research and development setup lends itself to a staff buyout, in the way that a manufacturing company that went bust would. By this I mean that if we had say a company producing plastic buckets, the day the company closed the demand for buckets would still be there, so with a bit of government help it could be possible to get the thing back on the road.

I think this than probably leaves us with what national government money we can get pumped into the area, the trouble here is that we know from experience vast amounts are available centrally, but what the money is has to be spent on doesn’t necessarily make that much sense. Some people locally have reservations about an art gallery and now a railway station.

Geographically from a political point of view Pfizer’s is both in and out of our patch, I mean here that it isn’t in Thanet, so doesn’t come under Thanet District Council, but is in Thanet South parliamentary constituency, so much of what happens will be down to our new MP Laura Sandys.

I don’t think that the previous Labour governments could handle economic deprivation that wasn’t up north and I have my doubts that the new coalition will be any better on this front.

There is also the problem is that there is a limited amount that government can do at any level to get sustainable industry into an area, particularly during an economic downturn.

Obviously as the Pfizer site is in Dover district so I presume there isn’t that much that Thanet council ca do about it, we have however had problems in this area when industry has moved away without either looking after the site or returning it to how it was. The powerstation and hoverport being examples of what I mean.

For us in Thanet the exercise seems to be one of damage protection, from the district council point of view, officer wise this is a difficult time with the reorganisation and I hope the council will set up something to coordinate the problems arising from the closure with someone able in charge.

Councillor wise things are a bit different, there is a bit rather murky point scoring, the phrase “headless chicken” comes to mind as it is a bit difficult to see where the blame could be apportioned locally.

The business over the leadership consultation, which produced a rather murky image of the political side of the council when viewed from the outside, keeps rearing its ugly head too.

I think the Conservative group are at least taking the situation seriously as on this occasion I did get a response from the new leader, the first ever. Although the previous lack of response could be because the email address has been deleted by the council’s IT department.

You couldn’t make these only in Thanet things up, the leaders pa rang me up to make sure that the email she had sent on his behalf had actually got to me and seemed as miffed as I was, as to why they had deleted the email address without telling anyone including her.

I suppose the problem here is a fundamental one that neither the leader of the council, or the leader of the Labour opposition, have reached the stage where they have some sort of public internet forum, where the local voters can communicate with them.

There is of course the view that UK education isn’t producing the chemists they used to and that this is the reason that Pfizer are leaving the UK, in terms of chemists and further education, my mother went through it in the 1940s and my son is going through it now, I can assure you from personal experience the standards were very high and still are.

There is also the view that supporting very big companies to engage in very large enterprises leaves us very vulnerable when they decide to decamp, I don’t really see what else the councils could have done over the last fifty years in the case of Pfizer’s in Sandwich.

Looking out of the door of the bookshop here at this bit of Ramsgate town centre which looks a bit like there has recently been a civil war and considering that Ramsgate is the nearest substantial town to Pfizers, I wonder if this has anything to do with it.

I suppose if I was the MD of a multinational deciding where to close operations around the world, then I would go and have a look at the towns in the surrounding area.

Anyway we now have the problem and short of another large pharmaceutical company deciding to expand here very rapidly no obvious solution.


  1. There is no problem with the quality of chemists produced in the UK. The decision is an economic one. R&D is increasingly being located in China and India where costs are significantly lower. In part, these reduced costs are attributable to fewer regulations (i.e. it isn't exactly a level playing field). It was my understanding that the EU had been constructed to protect against unfair competition from countries which don't have to bear the cost of meeting EU standards. I trust the EU will give serious consideration to imposing financial penalties on companies which elect to save money by exporting their R&D.

  2. Yes Anon in rather the same way that penalties should be imposed on companies who contaminate aquifer or dumb down contractual standards rather than rework sub-standard pipe and vessel welds.

    When Pfizer failed to acknowledge or respond to letters on the above weld subject I wrote to the Environment Agency and my understanding of their reply was that the matter was with an EA Investigatory team.

    So my view is good riddance.

    And as for standards of chemists. Where were they when the FOI results shew massive contamination of the aquifer by Thor and Sericol. Didn't exactly leap forward to avail their expertise voluntarily in the community interest.

    So my view is feck the chemists too. If the work is going to China you could always follow it.

  3. Well, I'm not sure it is fair to say that the MP has much say over what happens to the site - I think it is worth pointing out that it is unlikely to be attractive as a research site given that there are very few businesses of the kind of scale which Pfizer had anywhere in the UK. If anything replaces it, presumably they'll be ones which can use the office space, though it isn't clear why that is a particularly attractive option for anyone out there.

    There is a bitter irony for us - my wife started a well paid 'permanent' job there in January (yes, that is less than a month ago). Quite what this means for Ramsgate and the rest of Thanet cannot be good.

  4. The latest indications are that the site will be levelled once the pull out is complete.
    So it will be back to square on again, only this time with the benefit of all the contamination on the land rendering it totally unusable, that is unless Pfizer tidy up behind themselves..... oh look another pig flying overhead.

  5. The site has been purpose built for Pfizer and I can see no other use for it. The best thing to do is for it to be pulled down, levelled and used for something else other than housing or returning to nature. With the power station site and the airport nearby all connected by various infrastructure there has to be an opportunity available, especially with the closeness of the continent.

  6. Maybe at least part of the place can be put to good use...

  7. One other blog has come up with the idea of turning the site into another bluewater.... makes a lot of sense as most of the infrastructure is already in place, just such a shame its another service industry and not manufacturing.

  8. Another Bluewater is a terrible idea! Not only would the main towns be damaged even more, but we'd also end up with an abandoned Westwood Cross!

  9. your missing the bigger picture here, if the site was to become another Bluwater not only would we all get an Ikea much closer to our doors, but the then abandoned Westwood Cross could be converted into a whole load of art Galleries.... and that my son is exactly where the future is, just ask any TDC councillor !!!!!

  10. The Pfizer site is of no use for anything. The buildings were designed as open-plan offices and laboratories. It would cost stupid amounts of money to convert them to anything else and it would almost certainly be cheaper to pull them down and start again.

    I think the site should be removed and the whole area allowed to go back to nature. I can see no reason to commemorate Pfizer.

    The great and good who are sitting around on their fat arses, pointlessly debating what can be done, as if they have any say whatsoever, should be looking at what help can be applied to boost small/medium businesses. This is where rapid growth and significant job creation could be achieved.

    They could start by laying off a few more fat cats and slashing the business rates.


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