All posts tagged 'Pfizer'

How non-negotiable will Kent's countryside be? Plus: Enterprise zones+LEP tension

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, March 28 2011


When Kent was trying to resist the previous government's efforts to impose large numbers of new homes on the county as part of its growth agenda, the late county council leader Sandy Bruce-Lockhart was fond of saying that the county's green fields were "non negotiable."

I wonder what he would have made of the government's plans to shake-up the planning regime so, in George Osborne's words, the default position will in future be for councils to assume there is a de facto presumption in favour of development where it boosts jobs and homes. (And it is homes the government is interested in, with housing minister Grant Shapps pointedly referring to the lowest peacetime slump in housebuilding since 1924.)

Developers will no doubt be delighted - although it is worth making the point that this is not necessarily a free-for-all regime in which councils will have to give the nod to anything that builders want. The key word is that old chestnut 'sustainability'. In other words, developers will have to show their plans won't be environmentally unsound, adding to pollution, for example, through increased traffic.

The problem for planners is, I expect, that developers will be all too anxious to point out that where such decisions might be evenly balanced, the presumption should generally be to say 'yes' to their plans when previously the answer may have been 'no'.

And could the government's plans pose a threat to village life? Under its shake-up, developers will find it much easier to apply for permission to change commercial premises into homes. In recent years, there have been countless stories of local residents battling to save pubs, post offices and village shops from being closed and converted into homes. Under these regulations, developers may not even need to make a planning application for such a change of use.


It will be intriguing to see how the Kent, Essex and East Sussex LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) decides what areas it proposes to the government ought to become enterprise zones.

Clearly, the closure of the Pfizer plant in Sandwich makes east Kent a leading candidate. But I expect it won't be quite that simple. There'll be plenty of other alternative options being put forward by council leaders, businesses and MPs in other areas and I'd like to be a fly on the wall when the discussions get underway. I foresee some tense deliberations.

The irony is, of course, that Kent originally wanted its own LEP but was persuaded by Eric Pickles to join forces with its neighbouring counties to create one with much more clout and under his urging performed a U-turn.

Given the current situation, I imagine some would rather that Kent had held its nerve and resisted Mr Pickles' overtures.


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The Pfizer blueprint - will the rhetoric be matched by action?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, March 15 2011

It is hard to dissent from much of what the government taskforce calls for to limit the impact of the closure of Pfizer's Sandwich plant in 2012.

The key recommendations in the 21-page report published today were, in some ways, predictable - there are calls for an enterprise zone, better transport links - particularly rail - and further government support through its regional development fund.

Pfizer taskforce sets out key demands; read our story here>>>

They all make perfect sense. So the issue is not whether what the taskforce says is right but how the government will respond. Science minister David Willetts was a little circumspect in what he said at today's press conference in Westminster, emphasising his support for the principle of the enterprise zone and the importance of improving transport links but saying that decisions on investment in zones and rail connections were ultimately the responsibility of the Treasury.

With George Osborne's budget imminent, it might be too much to expect him to give the green light to an enterprise zone and announce handouts via the regeneration fund.

Which raises the key issue,  underlined several times by taskforce chairman Cllr Paul Carter, that timing is critical and that maintaining momentum is a priority if the Sandwich plant is not to have tumbleweed drifting through its 2.3m square feet of purpose-built office and research facilities come 2012.

The report underlines starkly the consequences of Pfizer's decision on the wider local economy: 1,600 additional jobs could go while nearly 3,000 more in the public sector are predicted to disappear from the public sector in the area by 2015. That represents a potential loss of £380m to the economy - 9 per cent of east Kent's total output.

But it also strikes a more optimistic note by pointing to success stories elsewhere, notably the former ICI R&D site in Runcorn, which was closed ten years ago and is now a flourishing multi-purpose business and techology park employing 2,000 people in 160 different businesses.

So, if the brain drain and wrecking balls are to be avoided, the government must respond quickly.

If east Kent genuinely is on the cusp of an economic opportunity, it is an opportunity the government must not allow to go begging.


Having written extensively about Southeastern's rail fares in recent months, I ought not to have been surprised. But I confess to being taken aback when I bought my peak day High Speed return to London from Ashford to attend today's Pfizer taskforce briefing - a rather hefty £61.20. Throw in £5 for parking and that represents £1.80 a minute.

Almost makes the cost of a litre of fuel seem cheap. Almost.

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Categories: KCC | Local Politics

Could a minister's painful train journey help east Kent?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, March 10 2011

It's often said that the only time that politicians really understand issues facing ordinary people is when they experience them themselves. So, it was interesting to hear the science minister David Willetts recount his "painfully slow" train journey from London to east Kent recently in the wake of the Pfizer announcement.

Council leaders, MPs and businesses have been banging on about the poor rail and road connections to this part of the county for years and governments have been - in Willetts' own words - painfully slow responding to them. True, the East Kent Access road is slowly edging towards completion and did get a decent slice of government cash to the tune of £85m under the previous  government for the last stage but the project has hardly been a model of efficient procurement.

So, it will be intriguing to see if Pfizer's departure from its Sandwich site will focus the government's mind on doing something to make sure that connections - particularly by rail - are beefed up.

The Pfizer taskforce headed by KCC leader Paul Carter is expected to deliver its first report to the government within days and I've every expectation that recommendations for improving transport connections will feature significantly.

David Willetts chose his words carefully when addressing the issue in the Adjounment Debate on Pfizer's decision this week but said enough, in my view, to indicate that he recognised there was a genuine problem. If the government is to appear credible about its determination to limit the damage to the Kent economy caused by Pfizer's departure, then doing something to bring rail services within an hour of London has to be a priority. And it has to be done sooner rather than later.

As Laura Sandys, the local MP, has warned there are potentially 7,000 jobs at risk because of Pfizer's decision and action needs to be swift.


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Pfizer: did politicians know? And why under-fire Southeastern could get its extension

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, February 2 2011

After the devastating news about Pfizer closing its plant in Kent, there has inevitably been speculation about whether ministers were privy to the announcement before it was made. Business minister David Willetts said today that the government was told 'a few days before' in a briefing with the company and immediately set about asking if there was something the government might do to change its mind.

That does rather suggest that it was as much as a shock to the government as it has been to everyone else. That incidentally, includes Kent County Council.

The question then becomes whether the government's radar was adrift on what was happening in the wider pharmaceutical industry and should - could - have been more pro-active.

Labour is suggesting - rather inevitably - that ministers ought to have been in the loop and should have been making efforts to encourage Pfizer to stay put. That may be rather over-estimating the influence and leverage governments have when it comes to persuading global corporations faced with a contracting market in a recession to bend to their will.

One other consequence of Pfizer's decision is that it raises a serious question about the government's central contention that job losses in the public sector will be absorbed by growth in the private sector - especially in the context of expected job losses of 1,500 at KCC and many others in the county's public sector.


I am getting the distinct impression that for all its faults and the opproprium heaped on it by disgruntled passengers, the odds on Southeastern being offered a two-year extension to its contract are growing.

Despite the admirable efforts by Kent MPs to pile pressure on the government to do otherwise, it seems ministers are in a legal bind that would make it extremely difficult to go against the conclusions of its 'continuation review' and it appears likely that Southeastern may be on course to meet the required thresholds - notwithstanding the many complaints from its passengers.

The government will be extremely wary of exposing itself to any kind of legal action from Southeastern were it to go against the review and the possibility of handing out compensation to the company.

Of course, ministers will be able to blame the previous government for laying down the franchise rules that place them in an awkward position but I very much doubt that will appease Southeastern's long-suffering users or the county's equally frustrated MPs.

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Categories: National Politics | Politics

We need to know more before we can exonerate the company from blame

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Wednesday, February 2 2011

Drug companies have played a major role in the Kent economy for a century or more.

GlaxoSmithKline – formerly Wellcome – dominated the Dartford scene, injecting millions into the town and surrounding areas for generations.

But it is gone. Now Pfizer, home of Viagra and one of the county’s biggest private sector employers, is quitting. It is the biggest blow to our economy since the closure of Chatham Royal Naval Dockyard in 1984 which did no much to ravage the Medway Towns.

The loss of Pfizer’s world-renowned facility is not only a massive blow to 2,400 people and the thousands more who depend on Pfizer’s business, but also to Kent’s reputation as a great place for the pharma industry. It is one of the key sectors promoted by inward investment agency Locate in Kent, and a UK priority sectors.

But Pfizer’s decision, taken in New York, purports to have little to do with our attractiveness to pharma companies, more a reflection of changes in the industry itself and the ending of lucrative drug patents.

We need to know more before we can exonerate the company from blame. For all the global circumstances, the closure decision is a regrettable American insult to Kent and the UK. They must come clean on their decision-making process that left Sandwich abandoned.

One also has to ask whether the Government did enough to persuade the US giant to keep Pfizer in Sandwich. Was it well enough informed? Certainly Locate in Kent, local MPs and trade union representatives knew nothing in advance.

One of LiK’s primary roles is to protect jobs. But if they are not told, they cannot discharge this obligation, underlining just how vulnerable the agency – and the economy – is to global decision-making. They appear impotent - sorry about the pun - when it comes to worldwide companies taking decisions that wreak so much havoc on local communities.

Its secret nature left no time to debate possible solutions. This Government may not have been willing to offer sweeteners, but something could and should have been done. All the action is to happen now after the horse as bolted. The taskforce is welcome, the prospect of a science park or some other R&D facility would be ideal.

Perhaps another pharma company. Employment needs to match the high skills of the redundant workforce. But, as David Philpott, chairman of Kent Institute of Directors, points out, the site is geographically isolated and not ideal for many international companies.

However, everyone must pull together. This will be the first big test for the new local enterprise partnership, and the Government’s willingness to check its ferocious cost-cutting campaign and hand out some transformational cash. There is hope.

There is life after the closure of the former East Kent coalfields. And Medway’s economy has gradually recovered from the dockyard closure. But in both cases, it took many years to recover.

The closure will also offer new start-up opportunities to redundant staff with the courage to pursue commercial ideas. Kent Science Park at Sittingbourne, a hi-tech beacon, is ready to welcome science entrepreneurs.

But the bottom line is that jobs, skills and Kent’s assertion that it is a great place for knowledge-based industries are all at stake in the wake of yesterday's devastating news..

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Categories: Business

Pfizer: Alarm bells have been ringing for some time

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Tuesday, February 1 2011

PFIZER, which earned worldwide fame for discovering the Viagra anti-impotence drug, has been a key part of Kent’s business scene for more than half a century.

It is a flagship name that has had a major impact on the East Kent economy and been used to promote the county as a great place for Blue Chip companies.

With 2,400 people thrown onto the dole and scores of businesses losing valuable Pfizer business, this is a single blow to the heart of the Kent economy that is unparalleled in recent times. Yet warning bells have been ringing for some time.

After years of expansion, the company began cutting jobs worldwide, with Sandwich one of several plants to be hit. The New York-based business halted manufacturing with the loss of hundreds of jobs.

Yet it was manufacturing that was the Sandwich plant’s key activity for more than 50 years.

It shows just how vulnerable local economies are to global decisions made in remote boardrooms with no loyalty to a particular site or region.

The American firm had won early success for mass-production penicillin but the discovery of an anti-biotic in 1949 transformed Pfizer into an international pharmaceutical company.

Due to huge demand, this drug called Terramycint was imported into the UK from the States but this involved numerous delays.

The solution was to manufacture the drug and in 1952 Folkestone was chosen as the most suitable location for a new compounding operation.

However, the British Government restricted sales unless the drug was fully manufactured in Britain. So Pfizer decided to create a new manufacturing plant, and homed in on a derelict 80-acre site close to the River Stour. Government grants were on offer and so the Sandwich operation began in 1954.

Huge expansion followed, with handsome new buildings housing some of the finest research and development laboratories in the world. Staff numbers rose rapidly to more than 5,000. Since 1998, the company has invested almost a billion pounds in the Sandwich plant, and countless millions of pounds before that.

It was a story of continuous success and discovery, tempered by occasional public protest over its animal testing programme.

Pfizer has been an economic powerhouse for East Kent, prospering at a time when the rest of the area was struggling. It is fair to say that the economic decline of Thanet and the surrounding area would have been far more serious but for Pfizer’s presence.

But such splendid isolation came at a price. Pfizer struggled to attract the best scientists to a place perceived as being too far from the mainstream. Pfizer complained about transport links and shortage of good quality housing for their senior staff. But the company came up with a stream of good discoveries, notably Viagra, and manufactured a wide range of successful products.

Gradually, its influence paid dividends and a new road was built. But the recruitment challenge remained and dozens of marketing staff were transferred to Surrey.

As the world-wide pharmaceutical industry became more competitive, Pfizer came under mounting pressure. There have been regular job losses over the past few years as Pfizer consolidated.

A few years ago, Its New York headquarters recently announced plans to axe 10,000 jobs at its plants worldwide. The company has been hit by fierce competition and downward price pressure after drugs came out their restricted licensing period, While rumours of closure have been around for sometime, no one really thought the unthinkable would ever happen.

Now it has. Without Pfizer dominating the Sandwich skyline and the East Kent economy like a colossus, the future for the area looks pretty grim.

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Categories: Business

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