Published On: Thu, May 12th, 2016

Are we better off in or out of Europe?

JC4In the coming months many column inches will be dedicated to the big debate over the UK’s in/out referendum on membership of the EU. It would be wrong to ignore its implications for the window industry. It’s a tough task to remain impartial with such debates, but it’s important to extract the truths from both sides of the argument; so many aspects are relevant to our own industry. On the one hand, you have to consider the consequences for consumer confidence, the bottom line being that we are all dependent on continued home improvement spending by the British public plus the growth of new-builds. As a manufacturing industry, we import large volumes of components from Europe to manufacture windows and doors, while we export a far smaller number of fabricated windows and doors. We remain the second biggest economy in the EU and have become a very important market for European manufacturers of components. As a whole, mainland Europe is the destination for 45% of UK exports and the source of 53% of imports – for the UK window industry the percentages would be significantly different to these and need careful consideration.

However, many small and medium-sized firms in the UK dream of being unshackled from EU red tape. Rules such as the working time directive have caused major problems for many firms, while more specific to our own industry, EU influenced new regulations and standards plus restrictions on Britain’s freedom to alter VAT are becoming a hindrance to business. You may read about 36 FTSE 100 bosses saying that to leave the EU would threaten jobs. What needs to be remembered is that many of these firms can afford to pay lobbying firms to influence EU policy makers to protect their own markets with legislative barriers to entry.

The threat of the unknown is also a concern for many. As an industry, we have benefited greatly from the European pool of human resources. Nowadays, I frequently find when visiting a fabricator that at least 5-10% of the workforce are from Europe, and the same goes for many installation businesses. The cost for being part of the European Club is minimal as well, when you consider that the real cost is £7.1bn against the overall annual Government spending figure of £750bn. There is much is consider, and the arguments for and against will come hard and fast in the next few months. What matters is that we choose the best option that reduces red tape for business, keeps components reasonably priced and in ready supply; allows us to tap into the foreign labour market and one that keeps our economy and our British buying public in buoyant mood.

John CowieEditor