I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. As she says, the work that the industry is doing to ensure that the skills, technologies and advances we are seeing come through is critical. We need to continue that work and to do more to ensure that the whole industry is realising this technology revolution.
A UK research centre for ceramics would house an advanced ceramics campus, which would in turn house a national advanced sintering centre to bring together world-leading higher education institutions and industry, to create a hub for UK sintering R&D. That would deliver the step change that we need in the UK’s research capacity for pioneering advanced ceramics.
A ceramics campus could also encapsulate the recently formed AMRICC—the Applied Materials Research, Innovation & Commercialisation Company—which envisages pilot lines in field-enhanced sintering, ceramic construction materials, combined process and product-batch trials, and mainstream ceramics sector processing techniques. The pilot lines are designed to boost productivity, commercialise research, encourage disruptive technologies and, at the same time, support decarbonisation through waste-heat capture and the electrification of the industry’s considerable heat production.
A ceramics campus could be the new home for Lucideon, which is looking to expand considerably, aiming to nearly double its workforce. Together, the companies advocate the further development of specialist equipment and technicians for the benefit of the wider industry.
The ceramics campus would not be alone at the UK research centre for ceramics. It is envisaged that there would also be an international ceramics centre on the site—a hub for design, fine art and crafts, and for ceramics that would draw in designers, artists, architects and materials scientists from all over the world for expert training in the ceramics field. The ideas generated could be expected to provide some of the most eye-catching public art in history, making the research centre come alive for a much wider audience than just ceramics professionals. It would be an asset in the UK’s business tourism offer and would complement the city’s already blossoming tourism industry.
If the industry is to continue its current export success, it needs to be ready for the opportunities that will come from leaving the European Union and championing British products around the world. For this, a research centre could house an in-house ceramics sector expert in international trade. In addition, a facility for skills development, education, apprenticeships and training could keep UK ceramics internationally competitive and in high demand as the world-leader in products and technology. It is anticipated that as many as 600 people would find employment on the advanced ceramics campus directly, with several thousand jobs created in ceramics start-ups and spin-outs, and through the expansion of existing enterprises throughout the wider industry.
So why Stoke-on-Trent? It is the only natural home for a UK research centre for ceramics—it is the home of world ceramics and globally renowned potteries. Indeed, the plans and calculations for a research centre for ceramics are predicated on that centre being based on regenerated brownfield land in the city. The site would become a ceramics park, and would coincide with other developments that are coming to make Stoke-on-Trent a city that is truly on the up: development investment and civic renewal; a cultural renaissance including the British ceramics biennial; the BBC’s “Great Pottery Throw Down”; and our oh-so-nearly successful bid to be UK City of Culture in 2021. Historic England has announced a heritage action zone in my constituency to enhance our local industrial heritage and give it a commercial future, particularly through gains from the visitor economy. Massive transport investment is planned, including HS2, roads, wider rail and the rebirth of our city’s historic canal network.
No other city is better placed for access to the major cities of both the northern powerhouse and the midlands engine, not to mention international markets, with four international airports within an hour’s drive of the city. Both the BCC and Lucideon are already based in Stoke-on-Trent and, despite the truly shocking roll call of major names lost under the Blair and Brown years, the Potteries are still home to a huge number of world-leading brands in the industry, such as Steelite, Portmeirion, Burleigh, Wade, Dudson, Duchess, Churchill, Dunoon, Ibstock, Johnson Tiles, Emma Bridgewater and Wedgwood. Those are aside from the array of smaller-scale producers across the city tapping into and enhancing our identity as the place to be for ceramic artists and craftspeople.
The industry is also a massive draw to the city, with a burgeoning tourism sector focused around ceramics from the iconic Gladstone Victorian Pottery Museum to the award-winning World of Wedgwood, which I am pleased to inform the House has recently won the VisitEngland gold accolade. Stoke-on-Trent is home to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, housing the world’s largest collection of British ceramics.
Staffordshire University has a strong legacy with the institutions from which it was formed; the colleges of art, which came from across the Potteries, trained the likes of Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper. The university has been awarded £200,000 to support growth and innovation in the ceramics industry from the Higher Education Funding Council for England catalyst fund. Partners include the BCC, AMRICC, Lucideon and Wade Ceramics. Although that goes a significant way, and there is much that our city can give, there is still much that our city needs in support. Our record on social mobility is not good enough, our educational outcomes lag behind, we are not yet matching the productivity rates of our competitors, and, despite recent herculean efforts to improve, we still do not have enough of the high-skill, high-value jobs that a world manufacturing centre should enjoy.
Historically, the ceramics industry has provided women with opportunities that other industries have failed to provide. Today, the name of Emma Bridgewater is well known, and so too are the names of artists such as Anita Harris, Emma Bailey, Susan Rose and Denise O’Sullivan. Over the past century, there were many more famous woman potters, including Charlotte Rhead, Clarice Cliff, Edith Gater, Susie Cooper and more. We need to encourage more great names of the future. I am grateful to the Crafts Council for highlighting the fact that the numbers of students taking ceramics bachelor degree courses, and design and technology GCSEs, have reduced significantly in recent times. By enhancing and signposting the clear high-value career paths of the ceramics industry, it is hoped that a future ceramics park will encourage a much greater take-up of courses and get more of the skills that people need back into this growing sector.
As well as opening up careers for all in manufacturing and art and design, the ceramics industry offers career paths in everything from marketing to accountancy, and from information technology to customer services. It is, as the Ceramic Skills Academy says, an industry full of opportunity, and this fits very well with the industrial strategy.
I am particularly delighted to let the Minister know that the ambition for the UK’s research centre for ceramics, based in Stoke-on-Trent, has been tested against all 10 pillars of the Government’s modern industrial strategy. It will manifestly invest in science, develop skills and provide training opportunities. In terms of upgrading infrastructure, the ceramics park will convert a brownfield site into a thriving, publicly accessible research park. Businesses will be supported to grow and start up, ensuring that research and development is commercialised to the advantage of the UK firms on and off site. A research centre will help the industry to ensure that public sector procurement processes recognise the excellent benefits from UK-manufactured ceramics products. The ceramics park, equipped with an international trade expert, will encourage trade and inward investment. Through heat capture and other technologies, the park can deliver affordable energy and clean growth. It will be directly connected to the new district heating network.
The ceramics park will cultivate the UK’s ceramics sector and help to restore it to the health that it has previously enjoyed in some of the sub-sectors that have suffered acute decline. By strengthening the industrial cluster of ceramics in and around the Potteries, the ceramics park will be hugely beneficial in rebalancing our country’s economic geography. Finally, the ceramics park will bring together in one place the institutions and sectoral innovators that the UK’s ceramics sector needs to face the future as a dynamic contributor to a global Britain.
My appeal to the Minister is that he helps us to deliver this ambitious and exciting vision. In the short term, support is needed to develop and fully specify the proposals for the ceramics park in line with the process for similar centres of excellence supported by the Government. There will be a need for limited funding from Whitehall to support such things as infrastructure, but that will in turn leverage much greater investment locally and nationally from businesses, public bodies and academic institutions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) has previously corresponded with the Department about the early stages of this vision. I was delighted that a ministerial response in November last year spoke of “active consideration” and “an initial response”, assuring us that
“it is pleasing to see the Ceramic Sector being so positive about the future opportunities.”
I would be grateful for an update on the Department’s welcome input and its intent.
I want Stoke-on-Trent to be a city for ideas, ambition and achievement. I want Stoke-on-Trent to enjoy a £1 billion a year ceramics economy, and for our visitor economy to be boosted with ceramics-related and ceramics-inspired tourism. It is a UK research centre for ceramics, based in Stoke-on-Trent, that can make my dream come true. It can unlock our true potential for innovation and success, giving us a competitive edge internationally. I look forward to the Minister’s support tonight.