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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.